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05/06/2010 11:39 AM     print story email story  

Environmental Groups Demand Action In Wake of Gulf Spill News

Boosting fuel economy to 42 miles per gallon by 2020 would save more oil every day than 40 BP gulf oil spills, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) said in a statement Wednesday.

The federal government's response to this crisis must start with containing the spill and cleaning up the gulf, but it cannot stop there, the group said. It also needs to implement comprehensive climate and energy policies that address U.S. oil addiction.

"This spill should be a wakeup call for Washington to finally get serious about curbing America's oil addiction," said Brendan Bell, a federal policy analyst with UCS's Clean Vehicles program.

The volume of the BP Gulf of Mexico spill is still unknown, but the Coast Guard originally estimated it at 1.6 million gallons, or 0.04 million barrels. To put that number in perspective, raising fuel economy standards for passenger cars and light trucks to 42 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2020 would save 40 times more oil per day, UCS said.

With gas at $4 a gallon, those standards would save drivers more than $60 billion in 2020, after factoring in the extra cost drivers would pay for clean car technology when they buy new vehicles. At $3 a gallon, they would save $40 billion.

The United States currently consumes about 25 billion gallons of oil and other petroleum products every month. Based on U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data, UCS estimates that expanded offshore drilling in the Atlantic and Gulf Coast regions would provide less than a two-month supply of fuel between now and 2030. Any oil from those new areas would cut projected gas prices of nearly $4 per gallon by less than 2 cents per gallon in 2030. By contrast, the Obama administration's new fuel economy standards will save Americans the equivalent of reducing $4 a gallon gas to $3 a gallon.

According to a UCS analysis, instituting a suite of policies, including stronger fuel economy standards for cars and light and heavy trucks; incentives for producing clean biofuels; and support for expanding transportation choices, would cut U.S. oil consumption by approximately 3.7 million barrels a day by 2020 and 7.3 million barrels a day by 2030.

The federal government recently instituted new fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks that will boost average fuel economy of new cars and light trucks to 34.1 mpg by 2016. The Union of Concerned Scientists says it should follow that landmark law by raising average fuel economy standards for passenger cars and light trucks to 42 mpg by 2020 and 55 mpg by 2030.

Homegrown biofuels also will help displace oil. The 2007 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) calls for 16 billion gallons of cellulosic biofuels, derived from switchgrass, woodchips and other sources, by 2022. If the United States meets that goal, clean biofuels would cut U.S. oil dependence by about 0.7 million barrels per day in 2022, or at least 15 times more oil every day than the initial estimate of the BP Gulf of Mexico spill.

In Related News...

In light of the ongoing disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, Alaska Native communities and conservation groups sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar Wednesday urging him to reconsider his approval of exploratory drilling by Shell Oil due to begin in Alaska’s Arctic Ocean in less than 60 days.

The groups point to new information from the Gulf spill that requires the Secretary to reconsider his decision to approve Shell’s Arctic Ocean drilling.

"Despite the different operating environments, the Deepwater Horizon spill is directly relevant to the analyses underlying your decision to approve Shell’s Arctic Ocean exploration drilling plans," the letter reads. "MMS did not analyze or disclose the effects of a large oil spill from Shell's activities before approving the plans, even though it acknowledges that such a spill could have devastating consequences and could be difficult to clean up in the Arctic Ocean's icy waters. The agency concluded that a large spill was 'too remote and speculative an event' to warrant analysis."

The letter also highlights the stark differences between what is available to respond to a major oil spill in the Arctic and what was mobilized to respond to the Gulf disaster. In the Gulf of Mexico, 32 spill response vehicles, 1 million feet of containment boom and at least six firefighting vessels responded to the scene within 24 hours of the Deepwater Horizon accident. Such a rapid mobilization of resources would be far more difficult in the remote Arctic Ocean. As Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen, who is overseeing response efforts in the Gulf, said at a recent Senate field hearing in Alaska, "oil spill clean-up is significantly more difficult in colder temperatures and ice-covered waters" that prevail in the Arctic Ocean and there are "limited response resources and capabilities" in the region.

The Department of the Interior has full authority to suspend such operations under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act in order to review this significant new information.

The groups signing the letter are: Alaska Wilderness League; Center for Biological Diversity; Defenders of Wildlife; Earthjustice; Greenpeace; National Audubon Society; Native Village of Point Hope; Natural Resources Defense Council; Northern Alaska Environmental Center; Oceana; Pacific Environment; REDOIL; Sierra Club; The Wilderness Society; and World Wildlife Fund.

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