INTERVIEW: Environmental disaster from oil rig explosion in Louisiana

By Ryan Nobles - bio | email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - The environmental disaster from the explosion of an oil rig off the coast of Louisiana is growing by the day. Some experts estimate that at its current rate, it could release the equivalent of four Exxon Valdez oil spills a week.

The mess in the Gulf has brought into question how aggressive the U.S. should be in expanding oil drilling off the U.S. Coast, in particular in Virginia. Joel Eisen an environmental law professor at the University of Richmond. He joined NBC12 to discuss this debate.

RYAN: Joel, for environmental lists, is this a worst case scenario, what we're seeing unfold in the Gulf Coast?

JOEL: This is a major ecological disaster in a part of the world, let's not forget, that has already seen some of the worst damage in American history with Hurricane Katrina. And so this could become one of the worst, if not the worst oil spills a nation has ever seen after the Exxon Valdez and Santa Barbara.

RYAN: The timing could not have been worse since the moratorium was lifted. There's an appetite in the country for off shore drilling. This isn't new. This is far and away the worst we've experienced. We saw space shuttles that explode, that didn't stop us from going into space. We've seen a number of mining accidents. That hasn't prevented us from continuing to mine coal. Is this enough to keep us from further exploring drilling off shore?

JOEL: Well, I'd say you've got public figures really on both sides of the aisle looking at this and saying, it's time to step back and time to look at whether we want to do this at all. The Obama administration announced this afternoon that it's not going to lift the moratorium until the deep water horizon. You've got figures like Charlie in Florida saying this ought to make us think twice with oil drilling. I think yes, I think this has the potential to change the public's perception about oil drilling in a very major way.

RYAN: This is obviously not the only thing we can do to generate energy. You talk about wind energy. Is wind a viable opportunity to drilling off shore?

JOEL: The irony of this, just yesterday the federal government, the Interior Department issued its final decision in the Cape wind project in Nantucket Sound off Massachusetts. That would be the nation's first off shore wind project but Interior Department secretary Salazar say there may be many more to come. We ought to have a smarter energy policy that looks at other ways of meeting America's energy needs, including wind, including other ways of making our vehicles run.

RYAN: Is it possible that you could get as much energy off of wind off the coast as you could from drilling from oil?

JOEL: That's apples and oranges. We don't generate as much of electricity from oil so much anymore. This ought to at least make us step back and think about other ways of meeting our transportation needs and keep in mind that the platforms themselves are not the only part of this off shore system subject to disaster. You have the transportation involving the oil on shore which has been identified as a major problem in its own right.

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