Ban oil drilling off West Coast, senators say

After watching the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster, U.S. senators from
Washington, Oregon and California on Thursday introduced legislation to
permanently prohibit offshore drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf off the
three West Coast states.

“The economy of the West Coast is too valuable to put at risk,” Sen. Maria
Cantwell, D-Wash., said in an interview.

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

Congress enacted a moratorium on drilling off the West Coast two decades ago,
but it has expired.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., cited the Gulf of Mexico disaster and said:
“This remains an uncertain, very dirty business. There’s failed equipment,
aberrant weather, old-fashioned human error. And drilling in deep waters is even
more risky.”

The proposed ban does not effect current drilling off the California

Of late, however, California officials have taken an increasingly hostile
attitude toward any drilling expansion. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger withdrew his
support for renewed drilling in the Santa Barbara Channel, despite loss of
revenue to the cash-strapped Golden State.

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire immediately endorsed the proposed ban.

“As the devastating oil spill in the Gulf continues to cause irreparable
damage and hardship for the citizens and wildlife living in that area, I
continue to push the federal government to permanently ban offshore drilling off
the West Coast,” Gregoire said. “From personal experience I know there are no
guarantees to prevent a devastating oil spill.”

Gregoire cited the 1989 accident off Grays Harbor in which the barge Nestucca
spilled 231,000 gallons off heavy fuel. The spill fouled beaches as far distant
as Pacific Rim National Park on Vancouver Island.

California experienced the nation’s first major drilling disaster in 1969,
with the blowout of a Union Oil drilling rig in the Santa Barbara Channel.

Company president Fred Hartley made headlines when the Union Oil boss told a
congressional panel that he could not understand all the public fuss about loss
“of a few birds.” The loss was actually in the thousands.

Waters off the Olympic National Park are already a marine sanctuary under
legislation sponsored years ago by then-Rep. Mike Lowry. But the senators’
proposed ban would apply further south off Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay.

According to Sen. Cantwell, the Gulf of Mexico disaster stems not just from
equipment failures at one drilling rig, but “structural failures” including lax
government oversight.

“We on the West Coast have been through that: We’ve had enough of that,”
Cantwell added, referring to the Santa Barbara Channel disaster and fisheries
impacts of the Exxon Valdez tanker spill in Alaska.

“President Bush and Congress made a mistake in 2008 by letting the 20-year
ban expire,” Cantwell said at a U.S. Capitol news conference. “At that time,
‘Drill Baby Drill’ was the popular rallying cry for some, even though we tried
to put out that offshore drilling would never lower gas prices or impact our
foreign oil dependence.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said that if America’s car owners kept their
tires properly inflated, it would save more oil than would be produced by
drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf.

The legislation is sponsored by Feinstein and Boxer, Cantwell and Sen. Patty
Murray, D-Wash., and Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, D-Ore. Cantwell,
Feinstein, Boxer and Merkley appeared at the news conference announcing it.

The bill does conflict with national energy legislation introduced on
Wednesday by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Joe Lieberman,

The Kerry-Lieberman bill provides for off-shore drilling, but would allow
individual states to opt out. The West Coast senators would permanently prohibit
new offshore drilling.