Oil and Trouble
By Alex Distefano
On April 20, 2010, the BP oil disaster shocked the world after the Deep Sea Horizon, an offshore oil rig around 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana, exploded, killing 11 workers and injuring 17.
This substantial leak spewed forth approximately 5 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico (including the coastal states of Florida, Louisiana and Texas) until it was finally contained nearly five months later. Along with the massive loss of sea life due to the devastation of the Gulf’s ecosystem, the largest accidental oil spill in recorded U.S. history has opened another floodgate: a political debate over whether or not we should allow more, if any, offshore drilling.
Locally, this debate has close ties to home, as U.S. Rep. Ken Calvert, a Republican from the 44th District, recently voted for the final passage of House Resolution (H.R.) 1231, a bill that green-lights drilling for oil off portions of the California coast. This is a major problem, according to the nonpartisan Center for Investigative Reporting, because the “new law would effectively double the current level of offshore drilling. And states, such as California, would have no say in the matter.”
Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi explained in an official press release that the passing of H.R. 1231 (by a vote of 243-179 on May 12) “mandates the most sweeping expansion of offshore drilling in our nation’s history making broad swaths of the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts open for leasing automatically.”
Tenoch Flores, communications director for the California Democratic Party, questions Calvert’s vote and his ties to the oil industry.
“It’s safe to say that Big Oil knows where to put its money, and in this case, it’s with Ken Calvert,” says Flores, citing records that show the petroleum industry has contributed more than $180,000 in campaign contributions to Calvert.
Conflict of interest? That’s up to Congress to decide.
“That is up to Speaker Boehner and the Republicans in charge of the House Ethics Committee. But we’re not holding our hope that Republican leadership will see anything troubling about this. It’s just business as usual for them.”
Will constituents will express their concerns?
“This really is up to the voters of the 44th Congressional District in the Inland Empire, which include a good portion of Riverside County. It’s clear the congressman thinks this is exactly the kind of vote he can get away with, but if voters turn out in force in the November 2012 elections, perhaps they can send a strong message to Republicans like Calvert.”
And as for the environment, the impact of added offshore drilling is understated, according to Flores.
“Our state’s coast isn’t only a scenic treasure. Entire communities depend on clean and vibrant California coastlines for their livelihood. The tourism and fishing industries are a great example of this. When Republicans in Congress vote to open up the coast for drilling, it really puts billions of dollars and thousands of jobs at stake. California doesn’t have to look further than the BP disaster to see the real dangers of coastal drilling.”
Passage of the vote, however, doesn’t mean new drilling for oil will begin immediately.
“At this point in time it is unclear when, if any, drilling would take place, but it is important to remember that this is just a taste of what a continued Republican majority would represent for California.”
Calvert and his staff did not respond to interview requests for this story.