AUSTIN — As other states and the federal government dither over the decision to drill offshore or not to drill here at home, I think they ought to take a close look at the recent oil spill in Port Arthur.
This spill is a good example of how, in Texas, we've learned to both protect our environment as well as grow our economy.
Nearly half a million gallons of oil spilled when a barge collided with a tanker. It was the most serious spill in nearly 16 years on the Texas coast. But it wasn't a catastrophe, either economically or environmentally.
Just days after this oil spill, the Sabine-Neches Ship Channel is back open for business and only two birds died - a credit to the coordinated response of the Texas General Land Office, the U.S. Coast Guard and the ship's operator.
The massive and well-planned response to this accidental spill was no accident.
In Texas, we've learned a few things the hard way so the rest of the nation won't have to.
In 1991, the Texas Legislature had the wisdom to create the Oil Spill Prevention and Response Program at the Texas General Land Office under then Commissioner Garry Mauro. But the Legislature had to be shocked into action.
In 1989, the Exxon Valdez gushed 10.8 million gallons of oil onto the shoreline of a state without any adequate response plan. Then in 1990, Texas got its own hard lesson when the Mega Borg released 5.1 million gallons of oil 57 miles southeast of Galveston while offloading crude onto another tanker.
Since then, our oil spill team has become world-renowned for its ability to respond quickly with a preplanned attack anywhere oil is spilled on the Texas coast.
Our oil spill staff has identified environmentally sensitive areas and worked out detailed plans to protect them in a crisis. The Texas General Land Office makes sure there's enough equipment and manpower prepositioned at five oil spill offices across the coast for an immediate, robust response. Our oil spill experts constantly drill, practice and refine our plans before there's an emergency.
It's clear to me that with enough thought - and a lot of hard work - environmental protection and economic development are not mutually exclusive.
But still there are those who say we shouldn't drill. They think that by not allowing drilling offshore, they will be protected from oil spills. They need to think again. What lawmakers in California and Florida and D.C. need to know is that imported oil can cause more trouble than domestic drilling.
That's because pipelines don't have collisions. Offshore oilrigs usually transfer their precious cargo via pipelines, a more secure method than tankers.
Just look at the stats: Since 1998, the Texas General Land Office oil spill team has responded to 806 spills from tank vessels, like the one in Port Arthur. All but 86 of those spills were less than a barrel.
But in that same period, we've responded to 243 oil spills from exploration and production pipelines. All but 58 of those spills were less than a barrel.
The transport of imported oil and petroleum products occurring today in ports such as Tampa and Long Beach - located in states without offshore drilling - makes those states equally vulnerable to vessel collisions such as occurred in Port Arthur.
Preventing offshore drilling doesn't make a coast any safer from oil spills. Planning and preparation do, and that's just what the Texas General Land Office Oil Spill Prevention and Response Program focuses on every day.
JERRY PATTERSON was elected Commissioner of the Texas General Land Office in 2002 and again in 2006. A former Marine and Vietnam Veteran, Patterson is the author of Senate Bill 60, the Concealed Handgun Law.