Monday June 23, 2008
Protect the coast but not West Virginia?
Offshore regions were sheltered, but this state was not
The year was 1981 when Congress decided to save the U.S. continental shelf by declaring a moratorium on offshore gas and oil drilling and exploration.
The moratorium has protected virtually the entire Atlantic and Pacific coastlines and sections of the Gulf of Mexico since.
It was probably the proper way to handle it 27 years ago. We were awash with crude oil from foreign countries that were either our friends or scared of us. Natural gas shortages were not a problem.
And, of course, to drill in the continental shelf meant there was a possibility of ecological disaster. Tourists like to turn their eyes to the sea without seeing manmade oil rigs.
And, of course, an oil spill or two could damage expensive seaside property and the sensitive marine environment.
Today, things have changed radically, and President George W. Bush is urging Congress to lift the ban on offshore drilling as a way to reduce dependence on foreign imports and out-of-sight energy prices that threaten the U.S. economy in a way it hasn’t been threatened perhaps since the Great Depression.
But that’s not what bothers me the most about all this.
My mind wanders back to1981, and I must ask why Congress really voted for the moratorium without thinking of the other ecologically sensitive places it was giving tacit approval to destroying for the sake of energy consumption.
Places such as West Virginia.
There has been very little discussion given to the way mountaintop removal mining is, in many ways, more certainly a destructive force than drilling a few miles offshore from California or Florida.
Tourists traveling to these sunny destinations don’t want to see drilling rigs for sure, but do those who travel to Southern West Virginia and those who live there want to see a bare mountaintop devoid of the hardwood that had been growing there for thousands of years?
The danger of an offshore oil well spilling crude onto the beaches is a possibility, it’s true.
But with care and regulation, it can be controlled or eliminated.
What about the mud and boulders that rain down on houses and the West Virginia landscape with frequency around mountaintop removal mines? It’s more of a certainty than seaside oil spills, I suspect.
All this begs a question: Are some states and regions meant to be protected while others are meant to give up their natural resources without a whimper?
Did Congress ever consider that the ecology of West Virginia is just as valuable as the ecology of Florida and California?
Or is West Virginia simply one of those states that is meant to be used up in order to provide the rest of the country with the energy it needs?
“California’s coastline is an international treasure. I do not support lifting this moratorium on new oil drilling off our coast,” said California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Well, some of us think West Virginia’s mountains are a treasure that needs to be protected as much as the U.S. coastline.
But that doesn’t seem to matter, does it?
I’m all for getting the coal out of West Virginia as long as doing it doesn’t bring destruction to our mountains.
And I suspect that if the moratorium on drilling offshore is allowed, Congress and the EPA will make absolutely certain the beauty of our coastline is not compromised.
Not too late for our coast. But sadly, I fear it’s too late for West Virginia.
Peyton may be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.