From Green Right Now Reports

As the growing oil spill reached the coast of Louisiana Friday, environmental groups, aghast at the growing calamity, called on President Obama to do more than suspend new off-shore oil drilling.

The president announced earlier in the day that no more oil exploration would take place until the BP oil spill had been thoroughly investigated. An estimated 210,000 gallons of oil a day continued to pour into the Gulf of Mexico from the deep sea wellhead, 11 days after an explosion sunk the rig and killed 11 crew members.

“The administration is correct to suspend any new off-shore drilling until a full investigation is completed. But it can’t stop there – we need to do more if we are serious about avoiding disasters like this in the future. We must shift our energy policy away from oil, toward cleaner and renewable sources that can’t spill or run out,” said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“Offshore drilling is dangerous work and the cost of accidents is far too high, as this tragedy reminds us. We have an oil slick the size of West Virginia harming marine life in the Gulf of Mexico. It has just reached land and has begun to poison the fertile Mississippi Delta and its ecologically rich marshes. The spill also threatens the coastlines of the other Gulf coast states.

“We have to do better.”

The U.S. Coast Guard and a fleet of other agencies, along with BP workers, worked along the coast to try to capture as much oil as possible with booms designed to soak up oil as winds pushed into into the Mississippi Delta. The disaster is expected to have devastating ecological effects, killing sea and marsh birds and marine mammals such as the threatened sea turtles and dolphins as well as harming fish populations. The area is a major shrimping and oyster-producing region.

“This should be a wake-up call for America. We’ve been addicted to oil for too long. There should be no more drilling off our coasts. No more investing in this dangerous form of energy,” said Sierra Club spokesperson Kristina Johnson.

Obama’s temporary halt to new off-shore drilling “is a step in the right direction, but we need more than a temporary fix. This is an environmental catastophe. The answer is no more offshore drilling period.”

This spill highlights the perils of offshore drilling in deep waters, which the oil companies assured regulators was safe and manageable.   “The oil industry promised us that oil drilling was safe; that they had state-of-the-art equipment that would prevent oil spills. This oil spill far exceeds the oil companies’ worst-case scenarios,” Johnson said.

With clean energy, such as the Cape Wind farm approved this week for off the shore of Massachusetts, this type of environmental disaster can be avoided, Johnson said.

Instead, “we’re looking at the biggest environmental disaster in at least the last 20 years,” she said, noting that this spill will likely exceed that of the Exxon Valdez 20 years ago in Alaska.

Almost every leading environmental group has said the spill calls into question the wisdom of additional offshore oil drilling, which the White House endorsed on March 31, when Obama announced that he was opening previously closed areas of the Eastern Seaboard, the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic to new exploration. The decision was controversial at the time, which many accusing the president of currying favor with Republicans to gain momentum for other legislation, including the stalled Senate energy and climate bill.

“We once again call on the Obama Administration to withdraw permission for the petroleum industry to begin exploration in the Arctic, scheduled for July of this year, pending a full environmental impact review. We also urge the Obama Administration to cancel the leases in Beaufort and Chuckchi Seas that were issued by Bush Administration,” said World Wildlife Fund’s Vice President for Arctic and Marine Policy William M. Eichbaum.

“While there is no good scenario for an oil spill, the temperate weather conditions and the Gulf of Mexico’s well-developed infrastructure and access to the most technologically advanced methods for responding to a spill offer the best possible set of circumstances for coping with such a disaster. Yet despite all these advantages, the crisis continues to worsen.

“As terrible as this situation is, the impacts would be far worse should this spill have taken place in the harsh and remote environment of the Arctic, where violent storms and thick ice would make it nearly impossible to effectively respond to even a minor oil spill.

The Arctic  Council, which issues guidelines for drilling in that area and counts the U.S. as a member, has said no oil drilling or exploration should be allowed without “the ability to adequately respond to potential risks,” Eichbaum said.

“The events of this past week in the Gulf of Mexico and the lack of resources to respond should something similar occur in the Arctic region, make it clear that any further oil exploration in the near term would violate those principles.”

The Alaska Wildnerness League echoed the concerns of WWF.

“… no one knows how to clean up an oil spill in the Arctic’s harsh and icy conditions,” said Cindy Shogan, executive director. “This drilling – the same type of drilling that was happening in the Gulf – cannot move forward with the litany of risks to an environment that is fragile, unique and critical to the survival of some of our nation’s most beloved wildlife and the Inupiat people, who have lived off the Arctic Ocean for thousands of years.”

“What’s more, if an oil spill happens in the Arctic, response capabilities are minimal – especially compared to what is available in the Gulf. For example, within 24 hours, there were 32 spill response vehicles, 1 million feet of containment boom and at least six firefighting vessels on scene in the Gulf. If a similar situation occurred in the Chukchi Sea, there would be 13 spill response vehicles, less than 3,000 feet of containment boom and just one firefighting system onsite within 24 hours.
“The risk is too high in the Arctic, especially since the lessons from the Gulf have yet to be learned,” Shogan said. “President Obama must act now on his timeout on all offshore drilling before we sacrifice another one of our precious coasts.”