The National Wildlife Federation report entitled “ASSAULT ON AMERICA:  A Decade of Petroleum Company Disaster, Pollution, and Profit” released today takes a hard look at all the oil spills and accidents that occur everyday in communities all across the nation.  While individually these are not of the scale we are witnessing today, cumulatively they represent a widespread environmental disaster.

According to the NWF’s website:

“…the report, from 2000 to 2010, the oil and gas industry accounted for hundreds of deaths, explosions, fires, seeps, and spills as well as habitat and wildlife destruction in the United States.  These disasters demonstrate that the BP incident is not merely an accident but an industry pattern that places profit ahead of communities, local economies, and the environment.”

While NWF notes this isn’t a comprehensive assessment, the report does offer some pretty amazing stats:

  • OFFSHORE: The U.S. Mineral Management Service (now Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement) determined that 1,443 incidents occurred in the Outer Continental Shelf waters from 2001 – 2007. Of these incidents, 41 fatalities, 302 injuries, 476 fires, and 356 pollution events were reported.
  • ONSHORE: From 2000 – 2009, pipeline accidents accounted for 2,554 significant incidents, 161 fatalities, and 576 injuries in the United States.

Interestingly, the NWF also provides some financial and lobbying information to give a political context to the spills.  The report notes, for example, that “While most of the world was hit hard by the economic downturn, the top 10 petroleum refining companies in the world reported $2.8 trillion in revenue and $150 billion in profit during 2009.”

NWF also notes that these very companies have spent $38 million already this year to lobby Congress while also giving nearly $14 million in campaign contributions.

In the interest of full disclosure, the ethanol industry has raised concerns about some of the facts groups like NWF have put out in reports such as this before.  Not being an expert in oil production and refining, I cannot say if all of the facts presented are correct and done so in the appropriate context.

What I can say is that these issues must be addressed.  Spills like BP’s in the Gulf of Mexico and the most recent one in Michigan can be avoided.  Investing in and developing renewable alternatives to oil can provide enough market cushion to eliminate the need for the kind of off-shore drilling that lead to the BP accident.  Additional focus on common sense and achievable goals for renewable energy production and efficiency gains can greatly reduce the change a spill similar to the one in Michigan will happen.

We will not stop using oil today.  We will not stop using oil tomorrow.  Likely, we won’t fully stop using oil in my lifetime.  That doesn’t mean we can’t start to dramatically increase our investment in renewable energies and begin the long process of ending our addiction to oil and making petroleum part of the menu of energy options we have, not the only one.