A report released today by the Bush Administration's National Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Policy Committee Subcommittee on Natural Gas was sharply criticized by Environmental Defense for proposing that oil industry activities be allowed within sensitive coastal waters long protected by a Congressional moratorium on offshore drilling.
"These recommendations are an attempt to roll back two decades of strong bipartisan consensus in Congress that certain parts of America's shoreline should be protected from the dangers of offshore drilling," said Richard Charter, marine conservation advocate with Environmental Defense. "This report, and the administration energy plan, threaten many protected coastal areas with the looming prospect of new rigs and pollution along their shorelines."
Tomorrow the National OCS Policy Committee will consider a series of contentious policy recommendations which would next be transmitted to Interior Secretary Gale Norton for action. These recommendations include:
- Allowing the oil industry and the Department of Interior, with some unspecified level of "consultation" with affected states, to select five target areas now protected by Congressional moratorium to conduct so-called pilot programs of seismic geophysical exploration, and other activities.
- Seeking grounds to see if a "limited" lifting of the offshore drilling moratorium can be undertaken.
- Developing federal economic incentives for the petroleum industry to encourage new drilling for natural gas in deep water, for both new offshore leases and existing leases.
These proposals represent the first time that the Interior Department and the oil industry have attempted to conduct activities aimed at gaining access to drill in coastal waters protected by the Congressional moratorium, raising significant concern among the Congressional delegations of several coastal states about such activities.
The Congressional moratorium on expanded offshore drilling was first imposed during 1982 in response to the aggressive coastal leasing policies of former Interior Secretary James Watt. Renewed by Congress on an annual basis each year since that time, the moratorium currently protects the U.S. West Coast, the East Coast, parts of Florida, and Alaska's fishery-rich Bristol Bay, and is up for renewal again this year.