I wrote this in 2009.
Offshore Drilling Redux
by Luanne Rice
1977 seems a long time ago. I was 21, a research assistant at the National Academy of Sciences. One job was to attend Senate Hearings on the impact of offshore drilling. I sat there with my pad and paper watching Lowell Weicker, the senator from my home state of Connecticut, stare at the oil company witness as if he were a fly and Weicker was a big old frog. J. Bennett Johnson of Louisiana was quick and sharp, a bird darting from fact to fact.
The Senate hall was grand. These were powerful men. Decisions would be made to determine whether oil leases would be sold to allow drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf of the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. At the end of each day I returned to the Academy building, wrote up my notes, gave them to Richard H. Burroughs, our staff officer.
I read and reported on studies about oil exploration and impact in the Shetland and Orkney Islands; the disaster at Union Oil’s Platform A five and a half miles south of Santa Barbara; the Torrey Canyon tanker stranding on Seven Stones Reef off Lands End, and the devastating effect of oil spills on offshore, near-shore, and onshore environments. I read about the composition of crude oil, relative toxicity of its parts, the carcinogenic activity of hydrocarbons, the fact that present in petroleum are low-boiling aromatics, benzene, toluene, and xylenes, acutely poisonous to human beings and all living things. 
I saw pictures. Oil-tar lumps along tide lines. Oil-coated shore birds struggling. Dead lobsters. Dead cod. Tidal creeks glistening with gas rainbows. Bilge leakage from oil rigs. Funnels, booms, and skimmers trying to contain spills, hugging quantities of sticky, slimy oil against the spartina of marsh banks.
I grew up loving the beach. Walking the sand, crabbing in the salt marsh, hearing the birds call all night from Gull Island, the name my fellow beach kids gave to North Brother, a rookery on a small granite island just offshore. Working on the NRC study in my lowly position as research assistant felt like a mission and a quest. I wanted more than anything to protect our marine environment, the Eastern Seaboard, Gull Island, our beach from the sale of those leases, from oil exploration and development.
Our study’s scientists were chairman Philip L. Johnson, Oak Ridge Associated Universities; James H. Carpenter, University of Miami; Chuck Drake, Dartmouth College; Robert A. Frosch, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; Claude R. Hocott, University of Texas; Ralph W. Johnson, University of Washington; Don E. Kash, University of Oklahoma; James J. O’Brien, Florida State University; Lawrence R. Pomeroy, University of Georgia.
They convened that summer at Dartmouth’s Minary Center and made their conclusions: “Where vulnerable bays, beaches, estuaries, and marshes are present, special studies are needed to determine precautions to be stipulated in the leases; the technology for protecting these susceptible environments appears to be readily available. It is essential that concerned environmental groups be involved in these surveys.” (p. 61, NRC National Research Council. 1978. OCS Oil and Gas. National Academy of Sciences, Washington DC.)
I don’t know what part our study played, but a ban on offshore drilling was imposed, protecting our coastlines and marine environments. That ban has been renewed every year for the past 26 years until now; this year our legislators have given in and will lift it, a devastating development to those of us who love the oceans and shoreline. Oil companies and the builders of drilling rigs will make money. Shorebirds, marine mammals, bluefish, crabs will be at risk. This seems such an outdated, ineffective, sad way to try to move forward through this very challenging time.
I think back to 1977. We were so enlightened then.
 “Oil Pollution of the Ocean,” Max Blumer, Contribution Number 2336 of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.