Our guest bloggers are Daniel J. Weiss, a Senior Fellow and the Director of Climate Strategy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, and Sam Schiller.
Today, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) plans to visit Kennebunkport, Maine to raise campaign cash. While visiting President and Mrs. George H. W. Bush, he will be approximately 62 nautical miles from Georges Bank, one of the most biologically productive ecosystems in the world, due to the nutrient-laden Atlantic currents and ample sunlight feeding its waters.
This precious area is now threatened by President George W. Bush and Sen. McCain’s proposal to lift the Congressional moratorium on drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf, first signed into law by President Reagan in 1981. The current President Bush just ended the presidential moratorium on drilling in the OCS first established by his father.
Georges Bank is in the Gulf of Maine, and is an area the size of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island combined. It is rich with marine life. It also plays a critical role in Maine’s economy. Even with the decline of the cod population, Georges Bank still supported 26,000 jobs and had an $860 million dollar impact on the state’s economy in 2001. Landed fish were worth $363 million in 2007.
Other Maine industries also depend on a healthy, clean Georges Bank. Beach visits brought up to $323 million to Maine’s economy in 2005. Recreational fishing brought up to $297 million that same year. Tourism and recreation employed 86,000 people.
In 1987, a House of Representatives investigation concluded that drilling there made no sense due to the “ecological sensitivity of Georges Bank and the extraordinary productivity of the Georges Bank fishery.”
It has long been a target of big oil since it contains an estimated 8 percent of the United States’ offshore oil and gas reserves. Drilling could occur there if Sen. McCain prevails and the Congressional OCS Moratorium is lifted.
This move is opposed by Maine Governor John Baldacci and its entire Congressional delegation. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) — a McCain ally — said that drilling in Georges Bank “would harm our fishing industry, which is already struggling.”
Sen. McCain has repeatedly and falsely asserted that oil and gas drilling is a benign process that has little impact on the ocean or the shore. As recently as Friday July 18th, McCain claimed that oil “rigs have survived, very successfully, the impacts of hurricanes — Hurricane Katrina as far as Louisiana is concerned.” In fact, Katrina and Rita caused nearly 600 different oil spills. Some estimate that Katrina spilled a total of 9 million gallons — about equal to the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska in 1989.
Oil and gas drilling contaminates local waters even without catastrophic events such as a Category 5 hurricane. Drilling rigs discharge thousands of pounds of toxic chemicals into the ocean, including lead, mercury, and benzene. There are mercury “hot spots” in Mobile Bay from offshore oil platforms.
Such contamination could be particularly harmful in a fragile ecosystem such as Georges Bank. The Conservation Law Foundation reported:
Critically, those same conditions that make Georges Bank so biologically remarkable also place it at high risk from pollution, chemical spills or other human error. Pollutants that found their way onto Georges Bank would be spread by the gyre relentlessly around the Bank and would damage or kill the larvae, juveniles, fish and mammals entrained in that gyre. The fish that lay their eggs on the bottom, bottom-dwelling juvenile fish, and bottom feeding fishes, like cod or haddock, would be equally at risk to pollutants that settled out of the water column and onto the bottom habitats of the bank.
John McCain heads to Walkers Point today to collect bags of money at a fundraiser hosted by Bush senior. And he leaves behind Bush junior and his offshore drilling proposal that would rob Georges Bank of its biological life, while threatening an essential part of Maine’s economy and identity.