Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Friday, August 3, 2012

Proposed Drilling Project at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

Whooping Crane

One of the greatest difficulties in being an environmentalist is trying to see both sides of an issue. Take energy conservation. During the 1973 oil crisis, when a consortium of countries,mostly in the Middle East, tightened controls on the world’s oil supply, Americans panicked, initiating more oil exploration in Alaska, Canada, the Gulf of Mexico, and the North Sea. Environmentalists warned about the potential for disasters such as what happened with the grounding of the Exxon-Valdez and the BP oil spill, but those fears were pooh-poohed away by people legitimately concerned about the critical ways our energy supplies figure into national security, and by people only concerned about capitalizing on oil company profits. 

Oiled Heron
I took this photo of a badly oiled night heron at Barataria Bay after the BP oil spill. The spill was far, far worse on wildlife than was reported.

The national security issue goes both ways, of course. Depending on any foreign powers for fundamental needs in the US is foolish, whether they be energy resources or critical computer components and consumer goods, but the very people who talk the loudest about us needing to be energy independent for national security are among the ones who outsource more and more critical manufacturing to China. And meanwhile, those environmentalists who have been talking about energy conservation since the 60s and 70s, because of the critical roles fossil fuels play in air and water pollution and climate change, are ever shouted down. 

We had the technology to make cars much more efficient, and during the Nixon administration set fairly strict standards for mileage of auto fleets which would have made a much bigger impact except that then Congress exempted minivans and SUVs from being considered passenger vehicles to dilute the effects of those standards. 

Good mileage day

It’s been heartbreakingly frustrating watching scientists paid for by the Koch Brothers conduct studies to prove that global warming is non-existent as more and more glaciers melted, average annual temperatures over the planet climbed, and insurance costs for weather-related claims mushroomed. Once it finally became impossible for climate-change deniers with a Ph.D. after their name to keep any kind of credibility with the scientific community, one by one they finally started conceding that yes, climate change is indeed happening, but really, how could it possibly be caused by one measly species? Now more and more of these paid deniers are finally being forced to admit that their studies were flawed, or at least they’re accepting that “new data” has made them reevaluate their findings and, yes, climate change does indeed exist and is indeed caused by our activities.

If this has all been a frustrating nightmare for environmentalists, it’s been heartbreaking to watch as one by one the national treasures we’ve managed to protect or restore for ourselves and wildlife are sold off to the highest bidders.  Ever since the 1930s, companies have been drilling and operating oil wells on the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, which serves as the winter home for every single member of the truly wild flock of Whooping Cranes that breed in Canada. 

Whooping Crane carrying blue crab to edge of water

Only a few of these oil wells are still producing, and most of the recent wells drilled there have not been economical to operate, yet Hillcorp Energy Company is requesting a new permit to drill there. The way the laws are written, National Wildlife Refuges aren’t designated wilderness areas and multiple use mandates require that companies be allowed to explore and extract minerals and fossil fuels, though special use permits can limit where and how their work is done. 

There is a very limited period for public comment—letters will be accepted by the US Department of the Interior through August 17. We can’t stop the drilling, but we can ask that all exploration be limited to areas away from where the cranes are, and we can also exert a bit of pressure on the publicly-held Hillcorp Energy Company to make them aware that people are watching them.