US states argue for - and against - new offshore drilling

24 February 2009 22:43  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--Some US coastal states on Tuesday urged Congress to quickly authorise expanded offshore oil and gas exploration and development while others, particularly California, called for a new ban on coastal drilling.

In a hearing before the House Committee on Natural Resources, Republican Virginia State Senator Frank Wagner urged Congress to “unlock the doors” to offshore energy development.

“Please hear my plea to allow us as Americans to take advantage of our domestic resources so we may secure America’s energy independence while putting Americans back to work,” Wagner said.

Wagner and other state officials spoke at a hearing called to examine how the US should proceed with offshore drilling in outer continental shelf (OCS) regions that were freed from a congressional ban on development in September last year.

The OCS regions off the US east and west coasts had been closed to drilling under a 27-year-old congressional moratorium that was allowed to expire on 30 September.

The US petrochemicals industry, which is heavily dependent on natural gas as a feedstock and fuel, has lobbied for years for renewed access to potentially vast offshore energy resources.

Virginia was joined by a coalition of 35 states with coastlines on the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans or along the Great Lakes in urging Congress to create a comprehensive plan for development of traditional and renewable offshore energy resources.

Ted Diers, chairman of the Coastal States Organization, said offshore development “must be part of a comprehensive plan in which the states are full partners, addresses regional needs and uses the best science”.

Diers said that states must be consulted by federal officials “in the development of any new offshore leasing program or formula of revenue sharing”.

Robert Marvinney, director of the Maine Geological Survey, said his state is not necessarily opposed to offshore drilling, but that estimates of only modest oil and gas deposits off Maine’s coast appear not worth pursuing if major fishing grounds of the Georges Bank might be put at risk.

California Democrat Congressman Sam Farr called for a new congressional ban on offshore drilling, arguing that access to additional oil and gas resources is outweighed by environmental risks, even if spills are rare.

Farr was joined by Mike Chrisman of the California Natural Resources Agency who said that the potential for adverse environmental and fisheries impacts “far outweigh the benefits of new oil and gas leasing and development off our coast”.

“There should be no ambiguity about where California stands on the issue of new offshore oil and gas leasing off California - we oppose it,” Chrisman said.

Virginia’s Wagner noted that the US spends nearly $700bn (€569bn) annually importing oil and other energy products from foreign sources, an amount about equal to the economic stimulus package recently passed by Congress.

Committee Chairman Nick Rahall (Democrat-West Virginia) said he is not opposed to OCS drilling but that Congress has an obligation “to determine the best way to accommodate drilling while also ensuring that our offshore resources are managed in an environmentally and fiscally responsible manner”.

The committee hearing was the second of three sessions examining expanded offshore drilling for oil and gas.

Environmentalists and tourism and fisheries officials testified at the first hearing session on 11 February. The third session, to be held on Wednesday, will hear testimony from the energy industry.

($1 = €0.79)

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By: Joe Kamalick
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