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Oil Spills Happen

At the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Americans are talking about the number of lessons to be learned from the tragedy of that storm and the failure of response by the U.S. government that followed.

The Sierra Club sent out a press release about one of those lessons — perhaps not the most important, but certainly one that finds relevance today. The environmental group points out that the Gulf Coast hurricane caused oil spills both on- and offshore, and urges supporters of offshore drilling to recognize the potential for future oil spills.

From the release:

**

New Orleans, LA: **When Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29 2005, millions of people suffered a tremendous loss. This tragedy was only compounded by incompetent government response both in the immediate aftermath of and in the long-term recovery from the historic storm.

In the three years since Katrina struck, numerous problems have surfaced related to government inaction and official misinformation ranging from the problem of formaldehyde in emergency housing, and now to myths about whether the hurricane really did cause any oil spills along the Gulf Coast.

As we reach the anniversary, our presidential candidates should be talking about ways to get our government working for people again. But John McCain and other supporters of more offshore drilling are trying to rewrite history and perversely use Katrina as evidence that drilling and oil spills aren’t threats.

**Fact–Hurricanes Katrina and Rita Caused Oil Spills and damage to both off-shore rigs and on-shore infrastructure: **

More than 9,000,000 gallons of oil were spilled as a result of the two storms.

(Source: U.S. Coast Guard)

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita alone “totally destroyed” 113 offshore oil platforms. One platform drifted 66 nautical miles before running aground on a beach in Alabama. Hurricane Dennis in 2005 nearly destroyed the then brand-new, state-of-the-art $1-billion Shell Thunder Horse platform—the largest of its kind in the world.

(Source: Minerals Management Service)

Yet at campaign events last month, Sen. John McCain said, **“I would remind you that off the coast of Louisiana and Texas, they both had hurricanes that did not cause any real difficulties. So the environmental side of it I think is pretty well okay.” **Two days later he said, “I’m aware that off the coast of Louisiana and Texas there are oil rigs, as we well know, and those rigs have survived very successfully the impacts of hurricanes, Hurricane Katrina as far as Louisiana is concerned.” (campaign events 7/15 and 7/18/08)

When I talked to the California-based conservation group the Surfrider Foundation for my story on offshore drilling last week, the spokesman Matt McClain said much the same thing that the Sierra Club release:

When Hurricane Katrina hit back in 2005, there was a lot of attention in New Orleans to all the devastation and destruction that took place on land, and rightfully so. But when that story was breaking, what didn’t get a lot of attention was that over 100 offshore drilling platforms were destroyed or damaged during the storm. And they spilled a significant amount of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. It’s kind of funny, because the energy secretary, as recently as last month, got on the news and had said, “We didn’t lose one drop of oil.” Meanwhile, there are copious amounts of satellite imagery showing the spills taking place.

As McClain and other sources discuss in that story, such oil spills can do a lot more than look ugly. They can destroy ecosystems, kill off wildlife and shut down beaches — costing local businesses and the tourism industry a whole lot of money.

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