Oregon Legislative Effort To Block Offshore Drilling Gets One Step Closer To Passage

Offshore oil rig in California. CREDIT: SELBE LYNN/FLICKR
Offshore oil rig in California. CREDIT: SELBE LYNN/FLICKR

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Oregon’s rugged coast is poised to grow even more inhospitable to oil and gas interests in coming days under a bill that passed the state Senate on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 256 would permanently extend an existing ban on oil and gas exploration in the 3-mile-wide band of coastal water the state controls. That ban is scheduled to expire in 2020.

More significantly, the bill also would prohibit any new infrastructure in Oregon-controlled waters that could aid drilling beyond the 3-mile point. That would make it difficult to do any drilling off the Oregon coast, even in federally controlled waters.

The provision is a response to the Trump administration’s announcement last year that it is opening up more of the country’s coastal waters to oil exploration.

“The federal government made a ruling a few months ago to open up about 90 percent of the territorial seas in the U.S.,” Sen. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, said before the Senate passed the bill 23-6. “We would rather not have exploration happening off our coast.”

Several Republican senators opposed the bill. Sen. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, said it could ultimately make the coast less safe if, for instance, a company got federal permission to drill for oil but did not have the infrastructure to transfer it safely onto shore.

Bentz and Sen. Alan Olsen, R-Canby, both supported the bill in committee but voted against it Tuesday. Olsen said he’d since concluded the legislation is too rushed. 

“We’re going to ban offshore exploration because at this point we don’t like something,” Olsen said. “To me that’s short-sighted.”

The bill now goes to the House, where it will likely meet strong support. But the legislation, which resembles an executive order Gov. Kate Brown announced last year, is also likely more symbolic than anything.

No one has drilled off the Oregon coast since 1964. There are possibly 810 million barrels of “undiscovered technically recoverable” oil and gas off the coast of the Pacific Northwest, but it’s unclear how much of that would be feasible to collect.

Copyright 2019 Oregon Public Broadcasting

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