The Trump administration’s proposal to expand offshore drilling off the Pacific Northwest coast is drawing vocal opposition in a region where multimillion-dollar fossil fuel projects have been blocked in recent years.
The governors of Washington and Oregon, many in the state’s congressional delegation and other top state officials have criticized Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s plan to open 90 percent of the nation’s offshore reserves to development by private companies.
They say it jeopardizes the environment and the health, safety and economic well-being of coastal communities.
Opponents spoke out Monday at a hearing that a coalition of groups organized in Olympia, Washington, on the same day as an “open house” hosted by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson told dozens gathered — some wearing yellow hazmat suits and holding “Stop Trump’s Big Oil Giveways” signs — that he will sue if the plan is approved.
“What this administration has done with this proposal is outrageous,” he said.
Oil and gas exploration and drilling is not permitted in state waters.
In announcing the plan to vastly open federal waters to oil and gas drilling, Zinke has said responsible development of offshore energy resources would boost jobs and economic security while providing billions of dollars to fund conservation along U.S. coastlines.
His plan proposes 47 leases off the nation’s coastlines from 2019 to 2024, including one off Washington and Oregon.
Oil industry groups have praised the plan, while environmental groups say it would harm oceans, coastal economies, public health and marine life.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee met with Zinke over the weekend while in D.C. for the National Governors Association conference and again urged him to remove Washington from the plan, Inslee spokeswoman Tara Lee said Monday.
There hasn’t been offshore oil drilling in Washington or Oregon since the 1960s.
There hasn’t been much interest in offshore oil and gas exploration in recent decades though technology has improved, said Washington’s state geologist David Norman.
“It’s a very active place tectonically. We have a really complicated tough geology. It’s got really rough weather,” Norman said.
There’s more potential for natural gas than oil off the Pacific Northwest, said BOEM spokesman John Romero. A 2016 assessment estimates undiscovered recoverable oil at fractions of the U.S. total.
Proponents have backed the idea as a way to provide affordable energy, meet growing demands and to promote the U.S.’s “energy dominance.” Emails to representatives with the Western States Petroleum Association and the American Petroleum Institute were not immediately returned Monday.
Sixteen members of Washington and Oregon’s congressional delegation last month wrote to Zinke to oppose the plan, saying gas drilling off the Northwest coastline poses a risk to the state’s recreational, fishing and maritime economy.
Kyle Deerkop, who manages an oyster farm in Grays Harbor for Oregon-based Pacific Seafood, worried an oil spill would put jobs and the livelihood of people at risk.
“We need to be worried,” he said in an interview, recalling a major 1988 oil spill in Grays Harbor. “It’s too great a risk.”
Tribal members, business owners and environmentalists spoke at the so-called people’s hearing Monday organized by Stand Up To Oil coalition.
The groups wanted to allow people to speak into a microphone before a crowd because the federal agency’s open house didn’t allow that. Instead the open house allowed people to directly talk to staff or submit comments using laptops provided.