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Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling in California

Expanded efforts to drill for oil and natural gas off the California coast and elsewhere in the US will be among the direct impacts of the growing demands for oil and natural gas as their supplies diminish. Sen. Barbara Boxer and Rep. Lynn Woolsey have consequently drafted legislation to enlarge the boundaries of two national marine sanctuaries in Sonoma County, Northern California, to prevent such drilling and its environmental degradation.

"The Sonoma Coast is one of the world's most biologically diverse marine environments," Sen. Boxer said at a new conference July 5 in San Francisco. "Our state is very clear: We don't want any more drilling." The new legislation, not yet in committees, would increase the jurisdiction of the Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank national marine sanctuaries to include all of the Sonoma Coast.

Meanwhile, the national energy bill passed in late June by the Senate includes a provision to permit surveys of offshore oil and gas deposits. A federal moratorium, which needs to be renewed each year, has banned such surveys since l982. "Why would we inventory an area we don't plan to later drill," Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R., N.C.) was quoted as saying by the Los Angeles Times. She was one of twelve Republicans who joined 31 Democrats to vote against the inventory that passed.

As Peak Oil approaches and symptoms such as rising gasoline prices create political turmoil, rather than deal with the cause of the problem-Peak Oil-the oil industry and its governmental allies will seek to drill for oil in areas that have been previously off limits due to the substantial environmental damage that drilling would do. Boosting domestic production is seen as the solution to symptoms that Peak Oil will create. However, increased drilling in Alaska and elsewhere in the US is merely a band-aid that will net only a small amount of oil and not deal effectively with the real problem.

In a related development, on June 22 the Senate gave federal regulators permission to approve liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals over the objections of various coastal governors. Republican and Democratic officials from city halls to Congress have opposed the federal government adding this provision to the national energy bill.

A major federal government vs. states rights struggle is shaping up over offshore drilling and the location of LNG terminals. For example, residents of the Southern California city of Long Beach have been opposing a proposed LNG terminal there. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission claims sole jurisdiction over whether the terminal should be built by developer Mitsubishi. California's Public Utilities Commission has challenged that assertion in court.

(Dr. Shepherd Bliss, sb3@pon.net, teaches at the University of Hawai'i at Hilo.)

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