Editor’s Note: Ted Danson is an actor, ocean advocate and a board member of the environmental organization Oceana. Follow him on Twitter @TedDanson. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion at CNN.
Ten years ago, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, spilling more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days. Eleven people were killed and the incident – which was one of the worst environmental catastrophes in American history – dealt a devastating blow to the Gulf Coast economy. Later, investigations found the disaster could have been prevented, but the government allowed the oil industry’s pursuit of profits to compromise safety, preparedness and oversight.
Today, it’s as if we’ve learned nothing from that disaster – President Donald Trump has not stopped work on his radical plan to expand offshore oil drilling to nearly all of our oceans. Administration officials have made it clear that despite the current public health emergency, their plans to expand offshore drilling are still underway. In fact, earlier this month, Trump held a questionable closed-door meeting with oil executives asking the president for federal financial support amidst a global glut of oil.
My interest in ocean conservation began on a day in 1987 when I decided to take my daughters – who were four and eight at the time – swimming at the beach near our home in California. We were running toward the water when we were stopped by a sign that read, “No swimming, ocean polluted.”
My girls couldn’t believe it, and neither could I.
The ocean was closed.
The same was true 10 years ago, when beaches along the Gulf Coast were coated in oil, and tourists stayed away. We can’t let that happen again. We need to tell this administration to halt its reckless plan to expand drilling.
An analysis by conservation organization Oceana found that prior to the coronavirus economic downturn, fishing, tourism and recreation industries on the East, West and Florida Gulf Coasts supported more than 2.6 million jobs and delivered nearly $180 billion in GDP. And while we know vital industries like tourism, recreation and fishing will recover, now more than ever, they need economic relief to rebuild. We will come through this current crisis, and when we do, the last thing coastal communities need is the additional threat of offshore drilling and potential oil spills that could ruin their livelihoods and way of life.
People up and down the coast understand what is at stake and have been acting accordingly. Many elected officials, businesses and coastal municipalities have voiced concern or opposition to expanding offshore oil drilling and exploration, including every East and West Coast governor.
Ignoring the voices of the communities along the coasts is an insult to those who would be most affected.
The BP Deepwater Horizon disaster should have been a wake-up call. According to Oceana’s analysis, oil killed tens of thousands of birds, sea turtles, dolphins and fish and washed up on 1,300 miles of shoreline from Texas to Florida. And a new study shows clear evidence of the widespread, chronic oil pollution in the Gulf. Scientists tested over 2,500 fish from 2011 to 2018, and one researcher Steven Murawski said, “We actually haven’t found one oil-free fish yet.”
To prevent another environmental disaster, we need to dramatically increase the safety and oversight of existing offshore drilling operations, while rapidly transitioning away from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy sources that will help head off the climate crisis.
Instead, the too few safety standards that were put in place after the disaster have been gutted by Trump. The industry continues to drill in deeper and riskier waters, inviting another catastrophe. Now Trump wants to expand dirty and dangerous drilling, threatening coastal communities across the country.
Parents should never have to explain to their children that they can’t go swimming because their government sold out their oceans to the highest bidder. If Trump’s drilling plan moves forward, we face oil spills, industrialization, ecological degradation and the destruction of a way of life. That’s on top of the pain so many are already suffering because of our current crisis. That would put us in a worse place indeed.