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
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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