By now it’s clear that when Donald Trump decided to shut down the government, he didn’t realize the suffering it would cause — for the oil and and gas industry. Although hundreds of thousands of government workers were furloughed, Bureau of Land Management employees were soon called back to work — without pay — so that they could relieve the industry’s distress by approving lease applications for drilling on our public lands. That’s right, even as we learn that oceans are warming 40 percent faster than we thought and that glaciers relied on by millions for drinking water are disappearing, the Trump administration is still racing to do exactly the wrong thing. It’s hard to say which is more astonishing: the greed or the stupidity.
A new report from Oil Change International makes it clear: Current levels of fossil fuel extraction are already too high if we want to avoid a climate disaster, so we should immediately begin a carefully managed and equitable decline in production. Instead, thanks to the Trump administration (during his shameful tenure at Interior, Ryan Zinke quadrupled the speed of oil and gas lease sales of public lands), the American oil and gas industry is on pace to expand fossil fuel production far more than any other nation. Between now and 2030, U.S. oil and gas production could account for 60 percent of the world’s growth in dirty-fuel production.
Fifty years ago today, a blow-out in California’s Santa Barbara Channel caused by inadequate safety precautions created what at the time was the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history. Thousands of birds, dolphins, otters, sea lions, and other wildlife were killed from Goleta to Ventura and across to the Channel Islands. It took years for the region and its economy to recover. The rupture of the Refugio pipeline just north of Santa Barbara in 2015 reminded us that no oil operation is clean or safe. Yet, incredibly, Exxon and other oil giants want to reactivate oil wells off Santa Barbara’s coast and triple production of heavy oil onshore. We can’t let this happen.
We’ve been warned time and again that the window is closing for reducing emissions enough to avoid catastrophic warming. As the world’s leading producer of oil and gas, the United States should also be the leader on managing the transition away from those fuels. But instead of working to strengthen renewable energy and support the people and communities who currently rely on fossil fuel-driven economies, the Trump administration is hosting a quarterly money grab for industries that are actively destroying our planet.
The Sierra Club and our allies are doing all we can to stop this travesty. We also have hope in the form of a new Congress, which should use its oversight powers to protect millions of acres from these reckless lease sales. Meanwhile, we’ll keep counting the days until we’re rid of the tweeter-in-chief who doesn’t understand the distinction between climate and weather any more than he comprehends the difference between the actual suffering his shutdown created for real people and the inconvenience it caused for corporate polluters.