Putting a price on oil spill damage (copy)

In this April 21, 2010, file photo, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig burns in the Gulf of Mexico, more than 50 miles southeast of Venice, La. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

This Friday marks the eighth anniversary of the tragic Deepwater Horizon disaster, yet rather than learn from past mistakes, the Trump administration is seeking to continue down the risky path of expanded offshore oil drilling.

In January, the first draft of a new offshore oil program was released, proposing an unprecedented expansion of offshore drilling, encompassing 90 percent of the nation’s offshore area. The proposal even includes many areas that lack significant oil or gas resources as well as areas with longstanding opposition to offshore drilling.

However, an analysis of new trends released this week by my organization, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, shows that the proposed expansion of offshore oil and natural gas drilling is unwarranted due to the transition to electric vehicles already underway, and therefore places undue risk to our country’s coastal communities and their booming tourism economy.

Reasons why offshore drilling in the Southeast would be a terrible idea are numerous and have been discussed at length in previous editorials columns and articles. These reasons would be enough to see the folly in jeopardizing our shores and coastal economies with offshore oil rigs. However, new trends, apparent only in the past couple years, reinforce the incomprehensibility of drilling our coast, as the amount of oil that could be produced by opening all of our nation’s protected offshore areas is projected to be offset by the rise of electric vehicles in the U.S., thus lessening oil demand.

Southern Alliance for Clean Energy’s analysis finds that the total potential amount of oil that could economically be extracted from all currently protected offshore areas would represent just 5 percent of our nation’s total technically-recoverable oil resources. And that this amount of oil could be offset by replacing about 20 million to 45 million internal combustion engine vehicles with electric vehicles, depending on vehicle use and efficiency.

This sounds like a lot of electric vehicles, but a few facts help shed some light on how achievable this level of deployment would be.

Costs for batteries are declining faster than expected, and the sticker price for electric vehicles is expected to be on par with traditional vehicles by 2025. If you factor in tax credits and overall savings in fuel and maintenance, electric vehicles are already less expensive than traditional cars over their lifetime.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that nearly 15 million plug-in vehicles will be on the road by 2030, and a 2017 AAA survey found that more than 30 million Americans are likely to purchase an electric vehicle as their next vehicle. Bloomberg New Energy Finance expects that 5 to 10 million electric vehicles will be sold each year in the United States from 2030-35.

Besides saving our shores from the threat of oil spills, what other benefits could the transition to electric vehicles bring to our region? Look no further than the new Volvo plant in Berkeley County as a taste of what is to come.

The Post and Courier reports that Volvo is investing $1 billion into our region and creating nearly 4,000 local jobs in their production facility that will make exclusively electric and hybrid vehicles beginning in 2019.

Or look further upstate to BMW or Proterra. BMW has invested $8 billion in its Spartanburg facility. It has a battery assembly hall to produce power cells for the X5 hybrids, and produces the plug-in hybrid electric X5 xDrive40e iPerformance and will begin producing the all-electric X3 in 2020. Proterra is an electric bus manufacturer in Greenville that employs 200 people, has recently captured about 5 percent of the domestic bus market, and is forecasting a tripling in production this year.

Given the meager and uncertain benefits provided by the broad expansion of offshore drilling, the significant economic risks intrinsic in offshore drilling, and the ability for electric vehicles to offset any potential oil produced from newly opened offshore areas, the new offshore oil and natural gas drilling program is not justifiable.

The Trump administration should cease its development of the new drilling program and let real market sense take the place of political theater.

Chris Carnevale is coastal climate and energy manager for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy in Charleston.