2018-03-22 / News

Religious leaders against off-shore drilling plans

By Abigail Worthing Staff Writer

SACO – A group of religious leaders from Maine have joined with others from across the country in signing a letter put forward to President Donald Trump and Secretary Ryan Zinke in an effort to halt proposed offshore drilling.

The letter details the leaders’ opposition to the increased oil drilling and the adverse effect it would have on the ocean and coastal communities.

“Any increased oil and gas drilling offshore will inevitably lead to increased pollution, oil spills and harm to marine life. Drilling not only impacts marine life, but also impacts people who depend upon the oceans for food and jobs,” according to the letter.

Of the over 300 signers, 15 of them hail from Maine. The state is currently untouched by offshore drilling, and the signers are worried about “economic fatalities” should this take place.

One of signers is the Rev. Jim Anderson of Christ Church in Kennebunk, who has concerns about carbon emissions that come with the country’s dependence on fossil fuels.

“We have been given a responsibility to take care of the world, including the atmosphere,” Anderson said. “Winter has given us an example of global warming. We need to fix it.”

The Maine Council of Churches, a multidenominational organization that advocates for the poor and the environment in Augusta, Washington, D.C., and locally, has been involved in the opposition of offshore drilling for many years.

“Religious leaders are getting more involved, especially when we feel God’s creation or His people are being threatened,” said Bonny Rodden, president of the Maine Council of Churches Board of Directors. “We have to stand up.”

“The signers believe in protecting God’s creation,” said Cassandra Carmichael, executive director of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment.

In early January, Secretary Zinke announced a five-year plan that would allow for expanded drilling in the Atlantic Ocean. While this was a victory for the gas and oil industry, it has caused outrage among environmentalists. This new plan would open up 90 percent of the coastline for leasing, and reverses one of the final acts of the Obama administration, which had blocked 94 percent of the outer continental shelf for drilling.

In 2010, an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oilrig in the Gulf of Mexico caused the largest oil spill in history. While BP tried to contain the spill, it would eventually leave 1,100 miles of beach polluted, spreading from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

“You can’t just draw a line in the ocean,” Carmichael said. “If a spill like that happens, the water will carry the oil away. You can’t delineate boundaries. So if a spill were to happen in Massachusetts, it would affect Maine and Connecticut too.”

While the fishing and oyster industries in the Gulf of Mexico still have not recovered completely from the 2010 spill, the Maine signers are concerned over what could happen to the lobster industry should the Maine coast be leased for drilling. Providing almost 90 percent of the nation’s lobster supply, Maine currently yields about 40 million pounds of lobster a year and provides employment up and down the coast.

“This affects the lives of the people who live on the coast. We rely on tourism, fisheries. Why risk all of that with the chance of an oil spill?” Rodden said.

The signers hope their letter can help convince Trump and Zinke to reconsider their plan, and take drilling expansion completely off the table.

“We need everyone involved,” Anderson said. “The more demonstrations, the more we rise up, the more attention we can get from the government.”

“It’s not appropriate to dwell only on what should not be done. Instead of increasing energy resources with great risk to the environment, the economy and the livelihood of those who depend on Maine’s clean coastal waters, we need to focus on alternative forms of energy, such as wind and solar, and energy conservation,” Rodden said. “There are solutions. We just have to invest in them.”

Contact Staff Writer Abigail Worthing at news@inthecourier.com.

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