Coastal cities announce public opposition to federal proposal for offshore drilling
Coastal cities in Oregon and Washington are publicly denouncing a federal proposal for exploratory oil and gas drilling off the coast, fearing a spill of any kind would severely impact the environment, tourism and the fishing industry.
The city of Toledo is expected to join the Port of Toledo, the Port of Newport and the city of Newport in passing a resolution opposing the proposal. They joined more than 160 municipalities nationwide who've expressed concern and opposition.
On Jan. 4, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke released a sweeping plan to open nearly all waters off the nation’s coastlines to oil and gas drilling, including a major new lease sale off Oregon and Washington proposed for 2021. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) that oversees offshore oil, gas, and renewable energy-related evaluation, planning, and leasing will largely shape the project.
The plan attempts to turn offshore waters into a much bigger oil spigot by opening up most of the outer continental shelf to what an Interior Department statement called the largest number of offshore lease sales in U.S. history.
It drew immediate backlash from environmentalists, fishermen and elected officials in the Northwest, and other coastal states.
The Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit grassroots organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of our world’s oceans, waves and beaches, is largely leading a campaign against the proposal.
“This is the future of our coast and we commend the Port of Toledo and leaders within Lincoln County for their strong leadership and response to [the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management],” said Charlie Plybon, Oregon’s Policy Manager for Surfrider Foundation. “We hope that other Oregon communities, ports, and public entities will follow their lead in protecting our coastal economy and way of life by opposing offshore oil drilling and exploration.”
According to a 2011 study conducted by several environmental groups, including the Surfrider Foundation, coastal recreation in Oregon generates $2.4 billion per year. Everything from hotel stays and food purchases to surfboard rentals and whale watching trips were considered.
The Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife monitors the fishing industry on the Oregon Coast. In 2016, it estimated the industry employs 10,000 people and is worth more than $150 million.
Longtime fisherman and co-owner of Dockside Charters in Depoe Bay Loren Goddard says the Oregon coastline is not a place for oil platforms. He says he doubts platforms could withstand strong ocean currents, large waves and harsh weather day after day.
"Unlike the Gulf Coast, where cleanup is relatively easy, when you got the kind of coastline that we have here, which not only has long, white sandy beaches, but rugged, rocky shores, it would be a disaster of unbelievable proportion," Goddard told KATU. "The seascape would certainly be impacted negatively, and that is something that the coastal communities have been concerned with."
Goddard is gravely concerned for wildlife, especially whales who migrate thousands of miles from the warm waters off Mexico to the chilly Arctic seas.
"I have no idea what the impacts of an oil spill would be on [Gray whales]," Goddard said. "It would be just inhumane."
Zinke says that the plan lays options on the table for responsible development that could provide billions of dollars to fund federal conservation efforts and help America achieve energy dominance.
The plan would include 47 potential lease sales including 19 off Alaska, seven off the West Coast, including protected areas off California, and 12 in the Gulf of Mexico.
"[January fourth's] announcement lays out the options that are on the table and starts a lengthy and robust public comment period," Zinke said in a prepared statement. "Just like with mining, not all areas are appropriate for offshore drilling, and we will take that into consideration in the coming weeks. The important thing is we strike the right balance to protect our coasts and people while still powering America and achieving American Energy Dominance."
Port of Toledo Manager Bud Shoemake says the decision to announce public opposition was easy.
"We’ve watched the impact that oil spills have had in the Gulf," Shoemake told KATU. "We recognize [offshore oil spills] could happen here, and what it could mean to our region -- we may never recover from that."
The Port of Toledo is expected to send a formal letter of opposition to BOEM Thursday.
If permitted, platforms would be placed no closer than three miles from shore, according to the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act.
BOEM is accepting public comments on the 2019-2024 “Draft Proposed Program” for offshore drilling online through March 9. After the comments are received and environmental reviews conducted, the “Proposed Program” will be released, triggering another comment period. The “Final Proposed Program” is expected by 2019. The current plan includes seven lease sales on the Pacific Coast: one for Oregon and Washington, and six in California.
A decision is likely months away.