US Senators Patty Murray, Maria Cantwell try again for drilling ban

Published on
February 15, 2021

U.S. senators from the West Coast, looking to build on the Biden administration’s pause on new offshore oil leases, are again pushing for a ban on drilling off Washington, Oregon, and California.

At the end of January, U.S. Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both Washington Democrats, introduced the West Coast Ocean Protection Act to permanently ban offshore drilling in federal waters off the West Coast. Cantwell is a senior member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and is in a position to push the measure there.

Murray and Cantwell said their intent is to make permanent an existing moratorium on drill leasing in those federal waters, to prevent a repeat of the Trump administration’s attempt to reopen them for oil and gas exploration.

“The Pacific Ocean provides vital natural resources for Washington state, and offshore drilling puts everything from local jobs and ecosystems at risk,” Murray said in a 29 January joint statement with Cantwell. “We need this permanent ban to safeguard our coastal environment and our state’s economy, including fisheries, outdoor recreation, and so much more.”

“Washington’s USD 30 billion [EUR 24.7 billion] maritime economy supports over 146,000 jobs from fisheries, trade, tourism and recreation – but it could all be devastated in an instant by an oil spill,” Cantwell said. “We must permanently ban offshore drilling on the West Coast to protect our coastal communities, economies, and ecosystems against the risk of an oil spill.”

Meanwhile, the Federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is considering potential offshore wind energy areas that could be mapped out for leasing to developers.

Compared the relatively shallow outer continental shelf off the U.S. East Coast – where up to 16 wind energy project are already planned – the deeper Pacific Ocean waters would need floating wind turbine technology to advance before wind power arrays are constructed.

Federal and state energy planners and West Coast fishing communities are just beginning to grapple with the implications of floating wind turbine arrays and potential user conflicts.

As for offshore drilling, Murray and Cantwell said Washington state’s maritime industries “are worth USD 30 billion [EUR 24.7 billion] in economic activity, and support more than 146,000 jobs in the fishing, seafood processing, shipbuilding, trade, and other maritime sectors."

"The state’s maritime economy also provides jobs with substantially better pay than the average for all industries…Oil spills and activities related to exploration pose a grave threat to these jobs, which rely on clean water and healthy oceans," they said in a joint statement.

There have been multiple attempts to lock in a West Coast drilling ban in recent years. This one is co-sponsored by Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla of California, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Bob Menendez and Cory Booker of New Jersey, Edward Markey of Massachusetts, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, and Independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Representative Jared Huffman (D-California) is sponsoring a companion bill in the House of Representatives.

Reporting by Kirk Moore

Photo courtesy of the Federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

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