Offshore Drilling Recommendations Threaten America’s Coastline

A report released on May 23rd by the Bush Administration’s National Outer

Continental Shelf (OCS) Policy Committee Subcommittee on Natural Gas was

sharply criticized by Environmental Defense for proposing that oil industry

activities be allowed within sensitive coastal waters long protected by a

Congressional moratorium on offshore drilling.

“These recommendations are an attempt to roll back two decades of strong

bipartisan consensus in Congress that certain parts of America’s shoreline

should be protected from the dangers of offshore drilling,” said Richard Charter,

marine conservation advocate with Environmental Defense. “This report, and

the administration energy plan, threaten many protected coastal areas with the

looming prospect of new rigs and pollution along their shorelines.”

The National OCS Policy Committee will consider a series of

contentious policy recommendations which would next be transmitted to Interior

Secretary Gale Norton for action. These recommendations include:

  • Allowing the oil industry and the Department of Interior, with some

    unspecified level of “consultation” with affected states, to select five target

    areas now protected by Congressional moratorium to conduct so-called pilot

    programs of seismic geophysical exploration, and other activities.

  • Seeking grounds to see if a “limited” lifting of the offshore drilling moratorium

    can be undertaken.

  • Developing federal economic incentives for the petroleum industry to

    encourage new drilling for natural gas in deep water, for both new offshore

    leases and existing leases.

These proposals represent the first time that the Interior Department and the oil

industry have attempted to conduct activities aimed at gaining access to drill in

coastal waters protected by the Congressional moratorium, raising significant

concern among the Congressional delegations of several coastal states about

such activities.

The Congressional moratorium on expanded offshore drilling was first imposed

during 1982 in response to the aggressive coastal leasing policies of former

Interior Secretary James Watt. Renewed by Congress on an annual basis each

year since that time, the moratorium currently protects the U.S. West Coast,

the East Coast, parts of Florida, and Alaska’s fishery-rich Bristol Bay, and is up

for renewal again this year.

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