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WWF CEO Calls for Greater Emphasis on Science, Comprehensive Planning in Oil and Gas Development

Until U.S. Fully Transitions to Clean Energy, Drilling Must be Done Responsibly, Roberts Tells National Oil Spill Commission

WASHINGTON, DC, August 25, 2010 – Until America fully transitions to clean energy sources, oil and gas development must be done safely with science-based decisions that are made in the context of the full suite of potential uses of ocean resources, including fishing and tourism, as well as the maintenance of overall ecosystem health, World Wildlife Fund President and CEO Carter Roberts said today.

He made his remarks in testimony before the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, more commonly known as the National Oil Spill Commission.

“As a society, we are really good at gathering information and using the best available technology to analyze that information and incorporate it into our decision-making,” he testified.  “Yet our approach to oil has been antiquated at best, utterly dependent on information supplied by oil companies – about what they can gain – without adequate science to understand what could be lost.  It is time to bring balance back into our decision-making.”

To that end, Roberts offered three specific recommendations to the Commission:

  • Create an independent “Director of Environmental Science” within the Department of the Interior that would work with other federal agencies to analyze necessary data and would be freed of the current competing pressure of also collecting revenues and fees;
  • Ensure that the science collected is reliable and require at least three consecutive years of data for a given location before it could be opened to drilling; and
  • Direct federal science agencies and the US Coast Guard to establish specific requirements for leasing permits.

Sound decisions regarding resource extraction not only require a stronger foundation in science, but must also be made in the context of other, sometimes competing, uses of US coasts and oceans, Roberts said.

“If you look at the Gulf, over the last 90 years, oil and gas development has been allowed to proceed with insufficient consideration of the many benefits the Gulf provides and with obvious negative consequences,” he testified.  “It is time to put in place a 21st century conservation strategy to move beyond this single-sector approach.”

To ensure such comprehensive decision-making, Roberts recommended that oil and gas development be specifically included in ocean planning and mapping exercises – known as “coastal and marine spatial planning” – that are now required under an Executive Order that was issued by President Obama on July 19. 

“This approach allows us to make smarter decisions in areas already developed, and to get it right from day one in places like the Arctic, which are still relatively untouched,” Roberts testified.

He told the Commission that such an approach is not new, noting that Norway, a country with significant operations in offshore drilling and fishing, has recently established a comprehensive plan to govern the various uses of its offshore resources.

“This approach enables us to know the tradeoffs, to make smart choices, and to understand the consequences of the actions we take and manage the risk accordingly,” said Roberts.