Opposition to oil exploration off Washington’s coast has a history going back at least to the Bush administration: the George H.W. Bush administration.
It’s a fine tradition, one today’s West Coast governors intend to perpetuate. And their July 30 letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell could well have begun with a statement from 1991.
A spokesman for Gov. Booth Gardner said then that “Any proposal that keeps it open for oil and gas exploration is absolutely unacceptable.”
The “it” then was the Olympic Coast Marine Sanctuary, which stretches from Cape Flattery almost to Ocean Shores, extending between 25 miles and 50 miles out over the continental shelf. Anyone who has driven Highway 101 – the peninsula gets about three million visitors a year – can appreciate the relatively pristine shoreline even if the sub-surface life remains out of view.
Much of the seabed all the way down to Mexico is relatively undisturbed, except for an area off Santa Barbara where, in 1969, an oil rig blowout created a major spill that killed thousands of birds. No well has been drilled there, or anywhere else on the West Coast, since then.
So the new “it” is the entire coast, Canada to Mexico, and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Oregon’s John Kitzhaber and California’s Jerry Brown say they strongly oppose inclusion of their coastal waters in the 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program. The department is taking public comment on the study until Aug. 15.
While acknowledging improvements in drilling technology, the three say a Santa Barbara-scale spill would devastate natural resources and the recreational activities that depend on them; better to keep the oil and gas industry where it is welcome.
In fact, comments from the American Petroleum Institute on the potential for developing new resources overlook the West Coast, and why would they not?
Except off California, where drilling would set off a tsunami of opposition, what little study that has been done of the potential farther up the coast should be discouraging compared with the known wealth exploitable in so many other areas. Developing oil shale by “fracking” open well-known deposits has vastly expanded reserves on shore.
But having staked out their position on oil and gas, the governors encourage the secretary to take note of their effort, along with British Columbia, to shift the focus to renewable and clean energy, including wind and wave technology trials off Oregon. In what will be a red flag for some, they also mention “pricing carbon.”
Had the recipient of their letter been a longtime Northwest resident, the Democratic governors might have responded with a simple “Heck, no.” Jewell may be the most sympathetic reader they could hope for. Although a petroleum engineer by training, she’s also the former chief executive officer of REI, Seattle-based mecca for the outdoorsy.
In all likelihood, neither the governors nor Jewell will be in office when officials decide where oil and gas rigs go next. But their successors might want a marker they can draw on another 23 years in the future.
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