06 May 2017

Offshore Drilling Order Threatens Atlantic and Arctic Seabirds

(Washington, D.C., April 28, 2017) President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order today directing the U.S. Department of the Interior to expand oil and gas development leasing to new areas along the Atlantic and Arctic coasts and review National Marine Sanctuaries and Marine National Monuments designated during the past 10 years. Numerous environmental groups, including American Bird Conservancy (ABC), condemned the measure, saying it’s likely to harm wildlife as well as tourism and fisheries, and 27 U.S. Senators have expressed their opposition to offshore drilling.

“Offshore drilling and resulting oil spills and pollution would threaten numerous shorebirds on the Atlantic coast  as well as in the Arctic,” said Steve Holmer, ABC’s Vice President of Policy. “Endangered species and other wildlife are being put at needless risk by this backward-looking energy policy.”

Oil and other petrochemicals are toxic to birds, and because oil floats on the surface of water, seabirds are particularly vulnerable to this form of pollution. Birds with severely oiled plumage lose their ability to keep warm, often dying of hypothermia before they are fatally poisoned.

Species at risk along the Atlantic Coast include Brown Pelican, Red-throated Loon, Roseate Tern, and the Black-capped Petrel. The order also calls for reconsideration of the Well Control Rule put in place after the Deepwater Horizon disaster to reduce the risk of oils spills.

Arctic birds could be harmed by offshore drilling as well. The recovery of Spectacled and Steller’s Eider, endangered species whose populations have stabilized since being listed under the Endangered Species Act, could be threatened. Other species of conservation concern found along Arctic coasts include the Yellow-billed Loon, Spectacled Eider, Ivory Gull, and Ross’s Gull.

The administration is also facing strong opposition in the Senate. Twenty-seven Senators have sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke calling on the administration to protect coastlines from offshore drilling.

Keeping protections from offshore drilling in place “is essential to protect key industries for our states, such as fishing and tourism, our environment and our climate,” the senators wrote. “Allowing drilling anywhere on the East or West Coasts would threaten key economic drivers for these states such as fishing and tourism with the risk of an oil spill. Offshore oil spills don’t respect state boundaries and a spill off the coast of one state could easily affect another.” A copy of the letter to Secretary Zinke can be found here.

(Photo: Red-throated Loon is one of many species at risk from offshore oil and gas drilling. Photo by Dan Behm)