West Coast senators support offshore drilling ban

May 13, 2010 6:51:51 PM PDT
The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is turning into a political watershed moment for California. On Thursday, six U.S. senators from the states along the West Coast including Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein jointly introduced legislation to ban all future drilling along the Pacific shoreline.

This is the flip side of "Drill baby drill." California's senators along with senators from Oregon and Washington are joining forces to try and stop any future drilling or exploration for oil or gas off the West coast.

Senator Barbara Boxer said the pictures of the oil gushing from the well head and the millions of gallons that now pollute the gulf are evidence enough.

"The risk of a spill is too great," she said Thursday.

Boxer and Senator Dianne Feinstein and the senators from Washington and Oregon say legislation is needed to protect the West coast after President George W. Bush lifted a moratorium that had been in place for 26 years.

"There is no permanent protection for us. This is our only route to go," Boxer said.

Senator Feinstein said she was reminded of the 1969 oil spill when a well blowout spewed 200,000 gallons onto Santa Barbara beaches.

"Dead seals, dolphins, fish, shore birds, washed ashore," she recalled.

Feinstein said the oil industry has argued that its technology has improved, but she thinks the Gulf spill proves it remains a very dirty business.

"There's failed equipment, aberrant weather, old-fashioned human error and drilling in deep waters is even more risky," she said.

A spokesman for West Coast Oil Producers argues that drilling off of California has been safe and that 10 billion barrels of oil are at stake. Western States Petroleum Association President Joe Sparano says that is enough to replace oil imports to California for decades.

"I think replacing our foreign supplies for 33 years might be a pretty attractive proposition, particularly when you consider the industry has had a pretty terrific record of its operation off the coast of California," he said.

Sparano says in the past 40 years since the Santa Barbara spill, California offshore wells have produced 1 billion barrels of oil without a significant spill. Drilling opponents say those assurances are being swept away by what is happening in the Gulf.

Immediately after the Santa Barbara spill, membership in the Sierra Club doubled. Sierra Club Chairman Carl Pope says this is a similar political watershed.

"I believe that this event, which has put the entire Gulf of Mexico at risk, will transform the politics of oil in the United States," he said. "You're already seeing it in the polls."

One recent poll shows that support for offshore drilling has dropped since the blowout in the Gulf, but another says a majority of Americans still support offshore oil drilling.

Republican candidates running for Barbara Boxer's seat are split. Chuck Devore and Carly Fiorina favor drilling off the coast. Tom Campbell says he supports slant drilling from wells that are onshore, describing it as "safer."


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