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 Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both D-Wash., 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 in a position to push the measure there.
Murray and Cantwell say 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 Jan. 29 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 $30 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,” said Cantwell. “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 say Washington state’s maritime industries “are worth $30 billion in economic activity, and supports 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.”
There have been multiple attempts to lock in a West Coast drilling ban over the years. This one is co-sponsored by Democratic senators 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 and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, and independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., is sponsoring a companion bill in the House of Representatives.