On Thursday, the Oregon Senate passed House Bill 3613A 22 to 8, establishing a moratorium on offshore oil and gas drilling until 2020. This ten-year moratorium is four times as long as the previous moratorium passed in mid-2007 that expired this January 2, 2010.
"The Oregon coast is a beautiful, majestic place," said Brock Howell, the State Policy Advocate for Environment Oregon. "The legislature rightly protected our coastal jobs, businesses, and communities."
Oregon Coast's ecological significance and natural beauty is both a boon to recreational and commercial fishing enterprise and the coastal tourism economy. According to a report released by Environment Oregon this past fall, the fishing and tourism industries generate about $1.2 billion annually in Oregon, which is more than 2.8 times the potential oil and gas revenue off our coast.
An assessment by the U.S. Mineral Management Service (MMS) of Gulf Coast operations also found that oil rigs have a 100% chance of leaking toxic chemicals. In fact, the assessment found the average rig annually spills 25,000 pounds of metals, such as lead, chromium, and mercury, and potent carcinogens such as toluene, benzene, and xylene. With more than 200 species of fish, 120 species of birds, and thousands of sea lions and migrating whales making the Oregon coast their home, this toxic pollution would significantly impact fishing industries.
Just this August, the Montara oil platform off the coast of Australia started spilling oil and gas. Months later it was still leaking 2,000 to 3,000 barrels per day and reached almost 9,000 square miles in size, hurting fishing and seaweed farming communities several hundred miles away in Indonesia.
"When our coast has such a great opportunity to develop innovative renewable energies like wave and tidal, the last thing we need to do is to lock-up the coast with fossil-fuel development," said Howell. Studies have also shown that 20% of Oregon's electricity needs could be met through ocean power on our coast.
As part of the federal climate legislation discussions, Congress is also considering lifting a federal moratorium on offshore drilling in federal coastal waters.
"Oregon's action today is a clear statement to Congress that coastal states and communities are against drilling our nearshore," said Howell. "The U.S. Senate should take head that drilling our ocean is not Americans' vision for sustainable coastal economies or energy independence."
HB3613A was sponsored by Representative Ben Cannon of Portland. The bill was co-sponsored by Representatives Deborah Boone, Peter Buckley, Michael Dembrow, Lew Frederick, Mitch Greenlick, Chris Harker, Paul Holvey, Nick Kahl, Tina Kotek, Mary Nolan, Arnie Roblan, Jefferson Smith, Carolyn Tomei, Suzanne VanOrman, and Brad Witt, along with Senators Suzanne Bonamici, Jackie Dingfelder, Chris Edwards, and Diane Rosenbaum.
The bill was supported by a broad coalition of fishing, coastal, and environmental organizations. Ultimately, HB3613A no opposition testified against the bill in the Senate.
The conservation community made HB3613A one of three priorities for the Oregon February legislative special session. The Environment Oregon, Oregon Conservation Network, Surfrider Foundation, Oceana, and Oregon League of Conservation voters worked to pass the legislation.
"Passage of the offshore drilling moratorium represents how the fishing, coastal, and environmental communities to successfully work for a common vision," said Howell. "In the short time between the lapse of the previous moratorium on January 2nd and today, together we were able to protect an important and beautiful Oregon resource – our coast."
The bill now goes to Governor Kulongoski for his signature. The governor has been a strong advocate for preventing offshore drilling and the governor's staff has already testified in favor of the bill.