Enviros, others urge renewed US offshore drilling ban

11 February 2009 20:20  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--Environmentalists, tourism and fishing industry officials on Wednesday urged Congress to restore a ban on oil and gas drilling in US outer continental shelf (OCS) regions and called for extension of the ban to Arctic areas.

However, some ocean and fisheries advocates at the first of several hearings before the House Natural Resources Committee voiced support for offshore energy development as a means of reducing natural oil seepage and stimulating fish populations with artificial reefs.

The committee and one of its subcommittees will hold multiple hearings through February and March on whether and how oil and gas drilling should be allowed to develop subsea resources along the US East and West Coasts.

Those areas were closed to energy development for 27 years under a congressional drilling ban that was allowed to expire at the end of September last year. The US petrochemicals industry - which is heavily dependent on natural gas as a feedstock - has long advocated increased access to offshore energy reserves.

Committee Chairman Nick Rahall (Democrat-West Virginia), who favours a drilling ban, in his opening statement argued that increased offshore drilling the previously closed OCS regions would not likely produce significant additional oil and gas supplies or reduce US energy and fuel costs.

However, he said, “I am not opposed to drilling.”

“If we are going to start drilling in new areas offshore, we have to be aware what the trade-offs are,” Rahall said, saying that increased energy supplies, royalty revenues and jobs must be balanced against the risks of coastal pollution.

Among those testifying was actor Ted Danson, who also serves on the board of Oceana, a global ocean conservation group. 

Danson argued that “it is critical that Congress quickly reinstate its moratoria on drilling in the OCS” in order to safeguard coastal tourism and fisheries and to avoid continuing reliance on fossil fuels.

Noting an expansion of oil and gas exploration and development off Alaska’s shores and in nearby Arctic regions, Danson called for a broader moratorium that would bar energy development in those areas as well as along the US East and West Coasts.

“Those ongoing activities must be stopped,” he said.

Private sector tourism representatives from Florida and North Carolina and the Pacific Coast Fishermen’s Federation also argued against renewed offshore drilling, citing potential risks to their recreational beaches and fishing grounds.

But Jefferson Angers, president of the Louisiana-based Center for Coastal Conservation, argued that the fishing industry and offshore energy industries have successfully co-existed for 50 years in US waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

He said that offshore drilling rigs and production platforms serve as artificial reefs and are credited with helping to restore populations of fish species in the Gulf.

Bruce Allen, founder of SOS California, which advocates offshore oil and gas production, told the panel that subsea drilling off California’s coast has helped reduce the volume of natural oil seeps.

The committee has scheduled further hearings on 24 and 25 February when coastal state government officials and energy industry leaders will testify.

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By: Joe Kamalick
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