Wednesday, February 25, 2009

States May Block Offshore Natural Gas & Oil Drilling

By H. JOSEF HEBERT – 5 hours ago

WASHINGTON (AP) — Representatives of several coastal states told a congressional hearing Tuesday that states' views must be taken into account before the federal government allows oil drilling in federal offshore waters. And some states made clear they want no drilling, period.

"There should be no ambiguity about where California stands on the issue of new offshore oil and gas leasing off California. We oppose it," said Mike Chrisman, the state's secretary for natural resources. Chrisman made the statement in testimony before the House Natural Resources Committee.

Chrisman said California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other state officials were prepared to use permitting authority coastal management programs to thwart any new drilling plans.

Ted Diers, chairman of the Coastal States Organization, which represents governors of coastal states, said any offshore energy development — oil, gas, or renewable sources such as wind or wave energy — must have states as full partners with revenues being shared with the states.

"It is vital for state authority and sovereignty to be maintained," said Diers, who manages New Hampshire's coastal programs.

The state officials appeared before the second of three hearings being held by Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., on whether a drilling moratorium should be reimposed in some areas of the Outer Continental Shelf. A long-standing moratorium over 85 percent of federal waters expired last October.

Oil and gas industry executives were to testify before the panel on Wednesday, but not before various drilling opponents had their say during a hearing earlier this month and on Tuesday when the focus was on state's concerns.

Rahall said he was not against offshore oil and gas drilling, but wants to explore during the hearings "the trade-offs that would be involved."

But the political shift on offshore energy development in the Democratic-controlled Congress was not lost as executives of the largest oil companies were left, waiting to testify last on Wednesday.

Seeking to get their views out, several oil executives and the industry's Washington lobbying group held a conference call with reporters Tuesday just as Rahall's committee began its hearing.

Marvin Odum, president of Shell Oil Co., and Larry Nichols, chairman of Devon Energy Corp., did not want to suggest they were being ignored with all the emphasis at the White House and Congress on renewable energy sources.

"I don't think it's a trade-off" between oil and gas and renewable energy, said Odum.

Nichols said the message he and the other executives want Congress to hear is that "for decades to come the vast majority of our energy is going to come from our historic sources, mainly oil and natural gas" and there are substantial resources in federal coastal waters.

Opening Tuesday's hearing, Rahall said "the coastal states are critical in this discussion."

Support for offshore energy development among the states that no do not have it ranges from tepid to staunch opposition.

Like Schwarzenegger in California, the governors of Oregon and Washington also have made clear their opposition to opening federal waters off their coasts to drilling, said Chrisman.

The Bush administration portrayed Virginia as being ready to accept oil development, but Rahall released a letter from Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine asking Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to postpone any lease sale off Virginia. While the state favors exploration for natural gas off its coast, "Our policies do not support exploration for oil or production of gas or oil," Kaine wrote in the letter dated Feb. 19.

Virginia state Sen. Frank Wagner, told the committee he personally favored "a much broader approach" that would allow oil production with a sharing of revenues with the state.

"I need not tell you states are struggling," said Wagner, suggesting oil leasing money would help.

Robert Marvinney, Maine's state geologist, acknowledged competing economic pressures when it comes to offshore development.

More than any other state, Maine is dependent on fuel oil for heating, he noted, and Georges Banks oil off New England "could provide benefits to the state of Maine." But, he said, Georges Bank also has great economic value to the region as a fishery and "we are concerned about potential negative impacts" that oil and gas development might have on the fishing industry.

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