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SBC Leader Misstates Environmental Impact of Oil Wells

While promoting more domestic drilling for oil, Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, has repeatedly offered false claims about the environmental devastation of oil wells in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Land claimed on several occasions that drilling was environmentally safe because no oil wells leaked as a result of Hurricane Katrina. However, the U.S. Minerals Management Service reported that due to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita there were 124 offshore oil spills that discharged a total of nearly 17,700 barrels of crude oil and other petroleum products.

During the June 21, 2008, episode of his radio program “Richard Land Live,” Land argued that critics of allowing more domestic drilling “are either ignorant or they’re dishonest.” Land added about the energy crisis, “We can drill our way out of this problem.” He also advocated building more nuclear power plants and developing renewal energies, since he views drilling as a short-term solution.

However, Land also made false claims to support his argument that additional drilling should be allowed in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, off the Florida coast and elsewhere. Land claimed that no oil wells spilled in the Gulf region as a result of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“When Katrina went through there, not one single well leaked,” Land declared. “Not one single well leaked in the midst of a hurricane that devastated and basically closed down a major American city.”

Later in the program, Land again offered, “When you’re talking about drilling on sensitive environmental areas, in Katrina, we had Katrina, a huge hurricane blast right through the Louisiana coast, not one oil well ”and there were hundreds of them ”not one oil well leaked.”

Land repeated this false claim during the July 12, 2008, broadcast of “Richard Land Live” as he again urged more offshore drilling.

“Let’s remember that when Hurricane Katrina came rumbling through the Gulf into New Orleans, there are hundreds ”literally hundreds ”of offshore drilling platforms in the Gulf directly opposite New Orleans,” Land stated. “Not one single oil platform leaked.”

Land then concluded, “That kind of safety and technology means that we are idiots if we don’t drill off the coast and get our oil.”

Despite Land’s claims about the environmental impact of Hurricane Katrina, the investigation by the U.S. Minerals Management Service offered a significantly different picture. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita resulted in leakage of more than 740,000 gallons of crude oil and other petroleum products from platforms, rigs, and pipelines. Most of the spillage came from platforms and rigs.

Additionally, Hurricane Katrina destroyed 47 platforms and damaged 20 platforms, and Hurricane Rita destroyed 69 platforms and damaged 32 platforms. Hurricane Katrina destroyed or damaged about 6.7 percent of the platforms in its path, and Hurricane Rita destroyed or damaged 4.9 percent of the platforms in its path.

Other conservatives have joined Land in making inaccurate claims that Hurricane Katrina did not cause any oil wells to leak, including Sen. Mitch McConnell, former Sen. Trent Lott, and former Arkansas governor and presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee.

Earlier this year, Land inaccurately claimed that the earth’s cooling over the previous 12 months was “enough to eliminate the last hundred years of global warming.” He had based his statement on an inaccurate Web site story that had already been corrected.

As Land made his incorrect claims about supposed global cooling, he resorted to name-calling and animal sounds to mock Al Gore and other environmental advocates. He has also frequently used name-calling to attack those he disagrees with on other issues.

Land continued his penchant for name-calling in recent broadcasts pushing for more offshore drilling. Even as he made false claims about the environmental impact of Hurricane Katrina, Land suggested opponents of more drilling were “idiots” and “are either ignorant or they’re dishonest.”

Brian Kaylor is editorial assistant with the Baptist General Convention of Missouri.