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The Winds of Change

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As new estimates show the Gulf oil spill to be the biggest in U.S. history, and images of birds and sea turtles covered in oil begin to surface, the call to end offshore drilling in this country is growing.

While images of oiled wildlife and beaches hit us in the gut -- and are part of the reason I got involved in ocean conservation decades ago -- there's another reason why it's time to stop drilling for oil in our oceans. It might not have a face or feathers, but it's just as important.

The reason is this: The stubborn push to continue drilling not only fouls our oceans and contributes to climate change, it weakens our ability to join the emerging market for clean energy -- specifically offshore wind.

There are several hundred offshore wind turbines installed in Europe, and even China has begun building offshore wind. In comparison, the U.S. is embarrassingly far behind when it comes to utilizing our ocean breezes. Fortunately, several offshore wind projects cleared some major hurdles this year, and it's possible that we have our country's first wind turbines off the coast of Delaware and New Jersey in the next few years.

But the industry is still in its infancy, and offshore rigs compete directly with the nascent U.S. offshore wind industry for the small number of specialized equipment, ships and marine engineers.

Driven by studies showing that offshore wind could provide enough electricity to power the entire country, the Obama administration has encouraged the growth of an offshore wind industry.

But if the government wants to do more than just pay lip service to clean energy, then it's time to stop pushing for more offshore drilling.

We cannot drill our way to energy independence. The United States holds an estimated 2 percent of the world's oil reserves, yet we generate about 25 percent of the world's demand. And according to the government's Energy Information Association, even once full production is achieved, which wouldn't be before 2030, new offshore drilling would have a negligible effect on oil prices.

This week Obama announced a moratorium on new permits to drill new deepwater wells, and he suspended the planned exploration in Alaska, canceled a planned August lease sale in the western Gulf of Mexico and canceled a proposed lease sale off the coast of Virginia.

This is a huge step forward, but a six-month moratorium is not enough. We need a complete moratorium on offshore drilling, like the one that protected most of the U.S. coastline for 25 years.

Join the more than 60,000 people who have already signed Oceana's petition to stop offshore drilling -- tell President Obama and Congress that you want clean energy, not more dirty, dangerous drilling.

Ted Danson is on the board of Oceana.

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