By GUY KOVNER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Environmentalists scrambled Wednesday to determine if President Obama’s reference to offshore oil drilling in his State of the Union speech posed a new prospect for oil rigs along the North Coast.
It didn’t, but activists said the reference underscores the need to achieve permanent protection from oil and gas drilling for the rugged coast that supports the region’s fishing and tourism industries.
“Our coast has become a political football — and we are in overtime,” said Richard Charter of Bodega Bay, a veteran anti-drilling advocate.
Obama’s statement that he will open “more than 75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources” essentially affirmed the Department of Interior’s five-year oil and gas leasing program announced in November.
The plan calls for 15 potential lease sales in 2012-17 period, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico and three off the coast of Alaska.
The Pacific Coast was not included, the plan said, in deference to a 2006 agreement by the governors of California, Oregon and Washington opposing energy development off their coasts.
But after 2017, “all bets are off for California,” said Charter, a senior fellow with The Ocean Foundation, a nonprofit environmental group.
The oil industry, in an effort to rebound from the gulf oil spill of 2010, has mounted an aggressive promotional campaign featuring posters on Washington, D.C. subway cars and on television, Charter said.
A bill by Rep. Lynn Woolsey’s, D-Petaluma, to double the size of two marine sanctuaries would permanently ban drilling off the Sonoma coast and up to Point Arena in Mendocino County.
“It’s my highest priority,” said Woolsey, who is retiring this year. “It just has to happen.”
Woolsey said she was surprised by Obama’s comment, and said it amplifies the Interior Department’s plan.
In his speech, Obama noted that U.S. crude oil production was “the highest that it’s been in eight years” and that reliance on foreign oil was the lowest in 16 years.
Offshore oil production increased by more than one-third, from 446 million barrels in 2008 to more than 600 million barrels in 2010, the Interior Department said.
By excluding California, the five-year lease plan left an estimated 10.5 billion barrels of oil “off limits to U.S. customers,” said Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association.
Dependence on foreign oil is down partly because the recession reduced oil consumption, she said.
Obama’s recognition of the benefits of a secure oil supply “is a little bit at odds” with his decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline bringing Canadian crude oil into the U.S., Reheis-Boyd said.