The Washington Post checks McCain’s rhetoric about and the safety of offshore drilling:
Sen. John McCain says at every campaign stop that offshore oil drilling is safe, playing down the risk of environmental accidents, even when faced with the power of a hurricane.
“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’s concerned,” McCain said at a town hall in Michigan last week.
In an energy speech recently, McCain said that: “As for offshore drilling, it’s safe enough these days that not even Hurricanes Katrina and Rita could cause significant spillage from the battered rigs off the coasts of New Orleans and Houston.”
In fact, Katrina and Hurricane Rita caused damage to oil rigs and storage facilities in the Gulf, according to press reports and government studies.
The hurricanes totally destroyed 113 oil rigs, according to the government’s Minerals Management Service, and damaged 457 pipelines. The resulting oil spills were large enough to be seen from space, according to several reports.
While I’m all for beating up on John McCain’s nonsensical claims about offshore drilling, I don’t know what that last sentence is supposed to mean. The KH-12 spy satellites reportedly have a resolution of about 6 inches. Landsat satellites have a resolution of about 15 meters, MODIS has resolutions between 250 m and a kilometer. EROS has a commercial imagery satellite with 1.8 m resolution, while the IKONOS commercial imaging satellites can gather data to a resolution of 80 cm. Saying something can be seen from space is pretty meaningless at this point.
More relevant is that the spills following Katrina were “among the worst on record“:
The US [C]oast [G]uard, which is responsible for the marine environment, said yesterday more than 6.5 million gallons of crude oil had been spilt in at least seven major incidents. The previous worst spill in US waters was the 11m gallons in Alaskan waters from the Exxon Valdez in 1989.
“This is a major event,” said Lieutenant Colonel Glynn Smith of the [C]oast [G]uard in New Orleans. “Things are going well, but three-quarters of the oil from the spills has not yet been recovered.”
When that report came out in September 2005, the Coast Guard had yet to assess most of the 400 reported spills. That was two weeks after the storm struck New Orleans; the count rose to 593 spills releasing 9 million gallons by that November, with industry officials warning that “there was no way they could have foreseen or prepared for the environmental mess.”
A more recent assessment by the Minerals Management Service found that “Hurricanes Katrina and Rita Caused 124 Offshore Spills For A Total Of 743,700 Gallons.” This is what McCain dismissed as “not ? significant spillage.” He should take it up with Wally Cooper, the EPA’s coordinator for just one of the region’s spills, who told the Houston Chronicle: “This is worse than the worst-case scenario.”