By Jessica Goad
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is no stranger to attacks on the environment, as seen in his ads against clean energy jobs, his pledge to roll back fuel economy standards that protect public health and reduce carbon pollution, and the fact that he doesn’t know “the purpose of” public lands that belong to all Americans.
But this morning’s Washington Post sheds more light on Romney’s energy plan, including the fact that he would open up “virtually every part of U.S. lands and waters” to drilling regardless of whether they are national parks, national monuments, or protected in some other way. As the Post reports:
Asked whether any place would be off limits for oil drilling, campaign spokesman Andrea Saul said, “Governor Romney will permit drilling wherever it can be done safely, taking into account local concerns.”
Current law sets some public lands and waters off limits to drilling, including national parks, national monuments, and wilderness areas. These places are protected for other uses like hunting, fishing, sightseeing, and recreation.
Presumably, if there was oil and gas found there, Romney would allow drilling in places like the Grand Canyon, Arches National Park, Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, and Isle Royale National Park in the Great Lakes, regardless of its impacts on them. In essence, he would take lands that belong to all Americans and turn them over to oil companies.
Saul’s caveat that Romney would promote drilling if it could be done safely makes little sense considering that safe drilling has thus far eluded oil and gas companies. Most oil drilling involves the use of “drilling muds” that can include toxic chemicals. Hydraulic fracturing for natural gas involves pumping thousands of gallons of chemicals underground to stimulate wells. And all drilling produces contaminated water as a byproduct that must be disposed of. Additionally, oil spill are not uncommon — for example, a report from USA Today found an average of 22 large spills offshore every year between 2005 and 2009.
Romney’s calls for drilling everywhere come at a time when oil and gas production in the U.S. is at its highest since 1998, oil imports are the lowest since 1997, and there are more drill rigs in the United States than the rest of the world combined. Additionally, oil companies are not drilling public lands and waters that they have already leased. A new report from the Department of the Interior finds that industry is sitting on — not exploring or producing — 26 million acres of leases offshore and 20 million acres of leases onshore.
Leading the Romney campaign’s energy strategy is Harold Hamm, who made almost all of his $12 billion fortune from oil and gas drilling in North Dakota.
Jessica is the Manager of Research and Outreach for the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.