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Will Congress ban oil drilling off the Sonoma coast?


It’s considered a long shot, but a permanent ban on offshore oil drilling along the North Coast could be approved by Congress this month.

“Everybody’s holding their breath,” said Richard Charter, a veteran anti-drilling advocate from Bodega Bay. “This is really the closest we’ve ever been to permanent protection” for the coast.

If such a measure is passed, it would be the first time in a 30-year battle that oil rigs were definitively barred from the Sonoma and part of the Mendocino coast, a goal that has united local officials, fishing interests and environmentalists.

The stiffest competition now comes from the crush of business pending before the lame-duck Congress, including the Bush tax cuts, unemployment benefits and the “don’t ask, don’t tell law” on gays and lesbians in the military.

Charter, a lobbyist with the environmental group Defenders of Wildlife, said approval of a drilling ban “would be a long shot, end-of-session effort” but still a possibility until Congress adjourns, presumably before Christmas.

A bill originated by Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, would more than double the size of two existing marine sanctuaries — in which drilling is prohibited. The measure appears likely to be rolled into an Omnibus Public Lands Act, congressional aides said Thursday.

The Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones national marine sanctuaries currently cover about 1,800 square miles of ocean from just north of the Golden Gate Bridge to Bodega Head.

Woolsey’s proposal, approved by the House last year and backed in the Senate by California Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, would extend the sanctuaries’ northern limit from Bodega Head to Point Arena in southern Mendocino County.

Bill Wicker, a spokesman for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee, confirmed that a draft of the omnibus lands bill is “ready to go” and could be introduced if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada “gives a green light.”

Wicker declined to comment on whether the marine sanctuary measure would be included in the omnibus bill, but aides to both Woolsey and Boxer said Thursday they believed it would be included.

The omnibus bill is expected to include additions to wilderness areas and public lands in California, Oregon, Utah, Colorado and other states.

Packages like that “tend to have something everybody wants for their state,” which improves their chances of passage, Charter said.

If the public lands bill clears the Senate, approval by the House is “almost pro-forma,” he said.

Asked if the omnibus bill would get to a vote, Wicker said “we are competing for floor time with an impressive set of bills already … in the lame duck pipeline.”

In November, 23 environmental groups — including the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Ocean Conservancy and California League of Conservation Voters — sent Reid a letter urging him to put the sanctuary expansion into an omnibus lands bill.

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations also support expansion of the sanctuaries.

Supervisor Efren Carrillo, whose district covers the coast north of Bodega Bay, said he hopes the omnibus bill will pass.

“Sonoma County depends on the health of our coastal waters,” he said, noting that oil extraction would threaten the tourism and fishing industries.

The nation should pursue alternative energy and public transit to reduce dependence on foreign oil, Carrillo said. Drilling off the local coast is “not a viable option,” he said.

County supervisors since the early 1980s have opposed oil drilling off the North Coast, county spokesman Jim Leddy said.

The fishermen’s federation supports marine sanctuaries to prevent offshore oil drilling, executive director Zeke Grader said.

“We have no problem with it,” Grader said. Fishing is permitted in sanctuaries, and fishermen have an economic stake in protecting marine life, he said. “If we don’t, we’re out of business,” Grader said.

President Barack Obama in March put the Pacific coast off-limits to oil and natural gas development through 2017.

And for 27 years before that, the North Coast had been protected by a congressional ban on drilling, which had to be renewed every year and sometimes made it out of committee by only one vote, Charter said.

But the oil industry has long eyed the Point Arena basin, which extends south to Sea Ranch in Sonoma County and holds considerable reserves of oil and natural gas, Charter said.

Until the coast is protected by a sanctuary, the industry will wait for a “political opportunity” to drill here, he said.

11 Responses to “Will Congress ban oil drilling off the Sonoma coast?”

  1. Skippy says:

    Right on.
    The magical unicorn pixie-dust energy we have been promised since the 1970′s has failed to materialize.
    Why? Simple.
    It doesn’t exist.
    If wind, solar, tides, biomass, waves, hamsters and hand-holding were viable and profitable, the energy(oil)co’s. would be selling us electricity produced by those means.
    Let’s stop lying about energy.
    Wishing our way to an oil-free world will never happen; nor should it. Billions invested by oil co’s. have been for naught; and they actually know something about energy.
    Oil co’s. want to sell energy, not oil.
    If the magical new-age peacelovedove pipedream energy sources were real, we would be using them to replace oil.
    They aren’t; and we won’t.
    Either invent an economically realistic energy source that could replace oil, or stop interfering with the rest of us who want to live our lives warm, well lit and mobile.
    You know, like Americans. The envy of the world.

  2. Greg Karraker says:

    @Richard — You’re absolutely right. There are other ways to generate electricity than oil. In France, the vast majority of electricity comes from those icky nuclear plants that green moonies keep blocking.

    In the Northeast, at least 45% of all electricity comes from coal.

    I’m all for finding new ways to pull energy out of thin air, but until a more efficient technology than wind, wave, or solar emerges, you’re stuck with the same old trinity of oil, coal, and nuclear.

    If the Federal Government didn’t mandate drilling a mile deep just to keep those unsightly rigs a polite distance offshore, we could have plentiful oil here instead of buying it from our enemies. If they’d issue a permit for our first nuclear plant in 30 years, that would help. If POTUS would stop declaring war on the coal industry, that would also help.

    Just something to think of while you’re driving your Prius with its load of toxic batteries down 101 and dreaming of a SMART train powered by geysergush.

  3. While people are struggling to keep their homes, seeking employment, worried about our National Debt, Lynn Woolsey, lobbyist and environmental groups are hell bent on making us dependent on foreign countries while this is obviously a power grab over land the Government is going to regulate and control. They want bicycle paths and bridges and really Un-SMART trains, all to get us to live a lifestyle they feel will create peace and harmony?

    Prioritize much? What about placing human’s before some fish, rodent, tree or insects? Why all the regulations that are job killers?

    By the way, I can travel town to town without seeing a single bicyclist on the road….why is there such a need for special roads and bridges that will be used by a select few?

    People before “Pet Projects” then go hug a tree!


    It is possible to move heavy loads, long distances fast with out using oil. Europe and China are doing it with electric trains. The northeastern US, Boston to DC, has electric passenger train service.

    Electricity can be generated without using oil.

    It would be good if the electricity generated by our near by geysers would be used to power SMART.

  5. NOTUTOO says:

    I wish the bicycle advocates would just take a breath. I think they see us as China was 10 to 15 years ago when there was bicycle taffic jams. It ain’t going to happen cyclists…Bicycles are great for weekend touring and exercise, but the vast majority of people can not use them for commuting, shopping, getting Jr to school and soccer. I know, I know, red thumbs, but bicycles are already losing ground. In 2009 USA retailer were left with 100,000 bicycles that didn’t sell. http://www.bicycleretailer.com/downloads/2010_Stats_Issue.pdf

  6. Really Big Fish says:

    Drill baby drill.

  7. Frank says:

    • Biofuels: More harm than good
    A pair of studies published in the journal Science state that biofuels do far more harm than good by increasing emissions of carbon dioxide and contributing to global warming.

    Biofuels are created from commodities such as corn, soybeans, sugarcane and palm oil.

    Joe Fargionine of the Nature Conservancy, a lead scientist in one study, stated, “All the biofuels we use now cause habitat destruction, either directly or indirectly. Global agriculture is already producing food for six billion people. Producing food-based biofuel, too, will require that still more land be converted to agriculture.”

    Use of biofuels as an alternative to fossil fuels (oil and coal) has been encouraged or mandated by several states, the federal government, and across Europe.

    The studies concluded that converting lands to grow biofuel commodities releases between 17 and 420 times more carbon than the annual savings from replacing fossil fuels depending on the crop chosen.

    “This research examines the conversion of land for biofuels and asks the question, ‘Is it worth it?’ Does the carbon you lose by converting forests, grasslands and peat lands outweigh the carbon you ‘save’ by using biofuels instead of fossil fuels? And surprisingly the answer is ‘no’,” stated Fargionine.

  8. Frank says:

    I wonder if these people have even a bit of a clue, how much oil is needed to build a elec car, solar panal or a windmill

  9. cyclist says:

    @Wellington . You can use corn or soy bean oil on your rig. Have we not learn anything from BP in the Gulf of Mexico. Though I am talking about the single driver and their big gas guzzler.

  10. Graeme Wellington says:

    When your bike can haul a tractor trailer of food over the Sierra Nevadas, I’ll support oil drilling bans. Same with solar or wind power. Let’s see the wind powered tractor trailers or solar powered long haul rigs. Who are we kidding?

  11. cyclist says:

    Reduce the use of oil. Ride your bike!