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Panel: End Our Addiction to Fossil Fuels

June 18, 2010

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - Calling it the high price of cheap oil, a panel of experts at the recent public forum, called Gulf Oil Spill: From Crisis to Solutions, talked about the damages from the Deepwater Horizon Spill and the need to find new alternatives to fossil fuel.

One of the speakers was Cynthia Sarthou, executive director of Gulf Restoration Network, based in New Orleans. She spoke about the need for more federal oversight, the catastrophic impact of the spill on both the environment and the economy, and the need for a different energy future.

"We need to diversify our energy sources so that we, slowly but surely, wean ourselves off of our addiction to fossil fuels, which are dirty. They carry health costs, they carry an environmental cost, and they're becoming riskier."

Sarthou warns that, as oil companies are forced to drill deeper, the risk of another major spill increases. Critics argue that, while accidents do happen, they are generally manageable. Oil companies say new technologies are being developed, but perhaps not as quickly during the slow economy, and argue oil expoloration is occuring in deep water in large part because environmental regulations keep it from shallower depths.

Still, Sarthou notes that oil production takes a toll on the health of both people and animals. In states with oil production, she says, the risk of cancer is higher. This oil spill reportedly has already killed or injured more than 1000 birds, 380 sea turtles and 41 dolphins, but Sarthou estimates the number is twice that high.

"Most of the animals, mammals and birds that are affected by the oil will never be found. They sink to the bottom of the ocean or they float at the surface and are never seen."

Sarthou says the full cost of the Deepwater Horizon spill will not be known for years to come, but reducing dependence on fossil fuels could help lower the risk of another spill. Although developing renewable energy technologies is creating new markets around the world, the United States is lagging behind, she adds.

"Places like China have realized that there's an economic opportunity here, and they're taking advantage of that, and if the United States does not soon take that opportunity, we're going to be left behind."

Investing in renewable energy like wind, solar and biofuels would not only reduce the nation's dependence on oil, Sarthou adds, but also would help jump-start the economy and create new jobs.

Melinda Tuhus, Public News Service - CT