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Public Statements

Offshore Drilling

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Offshore Drilling

Mr. MENENDEZ. Madam President, I rise today, as I am pleased we are finally moving to Wall Street reform--something I have come to speak about several times on the floor. That is critically important to our country, critically important to our economy, critically important to investors and consumers to have confidence, and I am glad we are moving to that, as a member of the Banking Committee. But at the same time, there is an enormous environmental challenge taking place in our country, one that I think portends the consequences of offshore drilling.

I rise today to discuss the tragedy in the gulf and looming environmental disaster that threatens the gulf.

First, I want to remember those who lost their lives in the tragic fire and explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico last week. Our thoughts and prayers are with the workers and their families.

The loss of life and the injuries are truly horrific, but this is also an environmental tragedy, one that threatens to reach historic proportions. Over 1 million gallons of oil have already leaked into the gulf. Each hour that passes without a solution, without a way to stop it, leads us to wonder what the extent of the damage will be. It is a wake-up call to all who are trying to weigh the benefits against the risks of offshore drilling as part of our energy mix. It certainly leads this Senator to wonder about the wisdom and the necessity of drilling off the coast of my State of New Jersey and, I would argue, off the coast of any Senator's coastal State.

As I stand on this floor today--and I show you this picture I have in the Chamber of the fire the Deepwater Horizon oil rig was engulfed in before it sunk--before it sunk--and then had all of the oil spilling into the gulf. As I stand here on this floor today, an oil slick bigger than the State of Delaware--over 4,000 square miles--is drifting toward shore--drifting toward shore. To give you some perspective of what that means, as shown in this other picture, this is how big this oil sheen is when compared to my home State of New Jersey--all of the yellow. If this spill in the gulf were happening, for example, in Virginia waters right now, my whole State would be holding its breath because NOAA has shown my office how a spill in Virginia waters could easily wash up on the New Jersey shore.

I say to the Presiding Officer, I do not know if you have visited New Jersey, but we have magnificent, pristine beaches. The dunes along the coast are breathtaking. Wildlife is abundant. Tourism depends on it. It would all--it would all--be in jeopardy.

The next photograph I want to show is what happens to wildlife in these oil slicks. This is a photograph in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez spill. We hope and pray the spill in the gulf stays offshore, but the reality is, it could make landfall any day now and this photograph could be repeated a thousand times.

Now we learn the spill from the Deepwater Horizon is worse than it was originally reported--far worse, at least five times worse. The Coast Guard and NOAA have revised their estimate of the leak. They now say it is not 42,000 gallons per day but 210,000 gallons a day. Imagine if the leak continues for 2 months, which seems like a real possibility at this point. In 2 months, it will have exceeded the amount of oil spilled in the Exxon Valdez disaster. Let's keep something in mind: The Exxon Valdez was a tanker with a finite amount of oil aboard. This is virtually a bottomless pit of oil.

When asked to compare this spill to previous spills, the Coast Guard compared it to the IXTOC I spill. On June 3, 1979, an exploratory well called the IXTOC I blew out in the Gulf of Mexico. It took 9 months--9 months--to cap, to seal, and the resulting spill was the second largest in world history, over 10 times larger than the Exxon Valdez spill.

As my colleagues can see from this map which has Texas, Louisiana, and the gulf, the spill traveled 600 miles from its center--600 miles--blanketing the coasts of Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana, causing extraordinary damage.

Now we are debating the wisdom of expanding oil production on the Outer Continental Shelf; in essence, all along the coastlines of our country. Some think the way to expand offshore drilling reasonably is simply to create some type of a buffer zone off the coast as if a little more room can protect our shores; as if the ocean is in neat, little boxes that could somehow be confined. Frankly, I think this graphic of the IXTOC spill shows that oilspills don't respect State borders or buffer zones.

In the wake of what we are seeing in the gulf, I am deeply concerned that the current 5-year plan recently announced by the administration would allow oil drilling less than 100 miles from Cape May, NJ. Cape May is a great historical place in New Jersey with beautiful beaches--some of the greatest beaches in the Nation. Cape May, where Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic, is the epicenter of bird migration on the entire East Coast and one of New Jersey's most significant seaside resort communities; the fourth most lucrative fishing port in the entire Nation, rich with scallop beds. It is less than 10 miles from Delaware waters--waters that the administration announced they are studying for possible future drilling.

So I am concerned that if the lease sales go forward, the coastlines of Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey will be under threat--not just an environmental threat but an economic one as well. Approximately 60 percent--60 percent--of New Jersey's $38 billion tourism industry comes from the Jersey shore, and the State's multibillion-dollar fishing industry would also be threatened by the specter of a potential oilspill.

We had an unfortunate incident in New Jersey's history. Years ago, in 1987, when the shore was polluted with medical waste in that year and medical waste that ended up on the beaches of New Jersey--syringes on the beach of New Jersey and other medical waste on the beaches of New Jersey--tourism revenue dropped 22 percent the very next year, and it took some time to recover. If a serious oilspill were ever to hit our coast, the damage would be enormously costly, and if the Exxon Valdez spill is any guide, much of the damage would be permanent.

It simply does not make sense to play Russian roulette with an asset that generates thousands of jobs and tens of billions of dollars per year for potential drilling assets that could never generate even one-tenth of that, and this is only in one State. Magnify that by so many other States that have similar coastal economies.

This tragedy in the gulf is a wakeup call. It demands that whatever we do in terms of drilling, we do carefully, thoughtfully, and with the very real images of this tragedy in mind. It is obvious--now more than ever--that we cannot ignore the risks of oil exploration, that we cannot take the safety of these rigs for granted or the reliability of redundant shutoff systems that were supposed to prevent such a spill.

It is time to weigh the risks against the payback. And what is the payback? Well, the Energy Information Administration, the entity our Federal Government has to give us information about our energy sources, estimates that opening all the shores--all shores to drilling--would amount to no more than a few hundred thousand barrels per day, which translates to a few tablespoons of gasoline per American vehicle. We don't keep oil in a domestic market. Oil is part of a world market, so there is no guarantee that American-produced oil comes to America for the purposes we need. It is hardly a drop in the bucket, with no measurable impact on gas prices. I don't want to gamble with the coastline of New Jersey or any of these other States for a few tablespoons of gasoline.

This image of a burning rig in the gulf that ultimately sunk and for which we have all this disaster taking place is a wakeup call to all of us who are committed to finding the best energy options for the future--options that will not put hundreds of miles of our coastline at risk. I don't quite understand why it is that when we are talking about global climate change legislation, we are also in desperate pursuit of oil, which is a contributor to the greenhouse gas emissions we are trying to avoid and, in essence, change from, so we don't have the climactic changes that can threaten our way of life. However, that is exactly what we are doing by going after this.

So I am respectfully requesting that the administration reconsider its proposal to expand offshore drilling until we are absolutely certain we can protect the New Jersey shore and the entire Atlantic seaboard from the potential environmental and economic disaster that could come from coastal drilling. I don't know why the Atlantic coast has to be under siege, but it seems to be. The other coastline was largely kept unexplored.

Instead of doubling down on 19th century fuels such as oil, we should be investing in a 21st century green economy that will create thousands of new jobs, billions in new wealth, and help protect our air and water from pollution. It is time for this country to move forward and embrace the future rather than clutch to the ways of the past that have not only given us this addiction but at the same time given us the consequences in our environment of polluting it in a way that ultimately creates risks to our crops, our farmers, our shorelines, as well as our health. My home State of New Jersey still has far too much incidence of respiratory ailments, including cancers.

We can do much better than this. We should do much better than this. We should stop feeding an addiction that ultimately would only add but a few tablespoons of gas and not do anything about the price but put an enormous risk to the economy of these coastlines, to our natural habitats, and to the quality of air we breathe. I hope the President will understand this disaster is a wakeup call that needs to be thought of seriously before we move forward on something that can be so risky to our economy, to our environment, and to our way of life.

With that, I yield the floor and observe the absence of a quorum.


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