Senators Propose Permanent Ban on Pacific Coast Oil Drilling
WASHINGTON, DC, May 13, 2010 (ENS) - In view of the ongoing Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Democratic lawmakers today introduced legislation in the U.S. Senate to permanently ban offshore drilling in all federal waters off the Pacific coast.

The West Coast Ocean Protection Act was introduced at a news conference this morning by Senator Maria Cantwell, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein of California and Jeff Merkley of Oregon. The bill is also sponsored by Senators Patty Murray of Washington and Ron Wyden of Oregon.

The bill states that "the Secretary of the Interior shall not issue a lease for the exploration, development, or production of oil or natural gas in any area of the outer Continental Shelf off the coast of the State of California, Oregon or Washington."

"President Bush and Congress made a mistake in 2008 by letting the 20 year ban on drilling off Washington state expire," Senator Cantwell said today.

"Now, with the horrific oil rig accident continuing to unfold before us in the Gulf, it is all too clear that the majority of our constituents were right all along in opposing offshore drilling. We must act to safeguard our precious coastal waters and end our dangerous addiction to fossil fuels," said Cantwell.

From left, U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer, Maria Cantwell, Diane Feinstein and Jeff Merkley introduce a bill to ban oil drilling off the Pacific coast. (Photo courtesy Office of Senator Cantwell)

"It is simply unacceptable to risk irreparable harm to our coastal communities, economies and ecosystems just to feed our oil addiction with a short-term fix - especially when new technologies are emerging that give us real alternatives," she said.

"Two years ago the oil industry was riding high on choruses of 'drill, baby, drill' and they stripped away protections for the Pacific coast that would prevent Oregon from becoming a victim of the kind of catastrophic oil spill happening in the Gulf of Mexico," Senator Wyden said. "This moratorium will restore those protections."

The bill would amend the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to permanently protect the $34 billion coastal economies of the three states, which support nearly 570,000 jobs in Washington, Oregon and California.

Senator Boxer said, "We simply cannot afford the risk posed by oil drilling off our magnificent coast. Nearly 570,000 jobs and our vital coastal economy would not survive an environmental disaster like the one we're seeing now along the Gulf Coast."

The senators point out that the United States has less than two percent of the world's oil in its reserves, and off the West Coast, only enough oil to last 500 days - less time than it can take to clean up a serious oil spill.

Washington state's offshore oil supply alone would only power the nation's oil addiction for less than a month. By contrast, if all vehicles' tires were properly inflated, cars would achieve more efficient gas mileage, saving the equivalent of all the oil off the West Coast in only 25 days.

"Offshore oil drilling carries with it real risk," Senator Feinstein said. "The voters of California have voted that they don't want offshore oil drilling, and I don't want offshore drilling. Now we know what the potential is for catastrophe and we have to see that it never, ever happens again."

The measure would cover federal waters from the boundary of state waters three miles from shore to the outer edge of the U.S. exclusive economic zone, which extends 200 nautical miles offshore.

"We are united in the principle that no oil drilling should occur off our shores," said Senator Merkley. "The Oregon Legislature has acted to stop drilling off the coast up to three miles but they can only do so much. It is up to us in Congress to protect coastal jobs and Oregon beaches."

"I've always opposed drilling off the coast of Washington," said Senator Murray. "The current tragedy in the Gulf Coast is a painful reminder that we can't allow drilling anywhere on the West Coast. The economic and environmental devastation caused by the Exxon Valdez disaster is still impacting industry in our region, and we can't allow it to happen again."

The ocean off Washington state is deep and subject to wild weather, increasing the risk of an accident if drilling were to occur. The West Coast is also seismically active and susceptible to earthquakes and tsunamis, such that a natural disaster might not only cause a catastrophic oil spill but also seriously hinder response capability.

"Our environment and our economy are too important to risk," Senator Murray said, "and this bill ensures that big oil companies can never roll the dice on the Pacific Coast."

On April 20, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig had finished drilling but not capping a test well in the Gulf of Mexico 50 miles southeast of Louisiana when an explosion occurred on the rig and she caught fire. Eleven people missing after the incident are presumed dead. The rig burned until it sank on April 22, in water about one mile deep, leaving a broken wellhead from which at least 5,000 barrels of oil a day is still gushing. The oil slick spreading from the Deepwater Horizon disaster covers at least 4,000 square miles and has come ashore in Louisiana and Alabama, threatening fisheries, tourism and wildlife.

Senator Boxer, who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, on Tuesday opened a hearing investigating the Deepwater Horizon oil spill with a comment on how a similar oil spill might affect California.

"Our ocean environment is not only a God-given treasure and our legacy - it is also a great economic asset," she said. "In California, ocean-related tourism, recreation and fishing generate $23 billion in economic activity each year and support 390,000 jobs. California's 19 coastal counties account for 86 percent of the state's annual economic activity, or more than $1 trillion.

"Nationwide," Boxer said, "ocean tourism, recreation, and fishing provide nearly $130 billion in economic activity and 2.4 million jobs annually."

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