Natural Resources Committee Hearing #2 – States Worry

WASHINGTON (AP) — By H. JOSEF HEBERT

Representatives of several coastal states told a congressional hearing Tuesday that states’ views must be taken into account before the federal government allows oil drilling in federal offshore waters. And some states made clear they want no drilling, period.

“There should be no ambiguity about where California stands on the issue of new offshore oil and gas leasing off California. We oppose it,” said Mike Chrisman, the state’s secretary for natural resources. Chrisman made the statement in testimony before the House Natural Resources Committee.

Chrisman said California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other state officials were prepared to use permitting authority coastal management programs to thwart any new drilling plans.

The state officials appeared before the second of three hearings being held by Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., on whether a drilling moratorium should be re-imposed in some areas of the Outer Continental Shelf. A long-standing moratorium over 85 percent of federal waters expired last October.

Rahall said he was not against offshore oil and gas drilling, but wants to explore during the hearings “the trade-offs that would be involved.”

But the political shift on offshore energy development in the Democratic-controlled Congress was not lost as executives of the largest oil companies were left, waiting to testify last on Wednesday.

Marvin Odum, president of Shell Oil Co., and Larry Nichols, chairman of Devon Energy Corp., did not want to suggest they were being ignored with all the emphasis at the White House and Congress on renewable energy sources.

“I don’t think it’s a trade-off” between oil and gas and renewable energy, said Odum.

Nichols said the message he and the other executives want Congress to hear is that “for decades to come the vast majority of our energy is going to come from our historic sources, mainly oil and natural gas” and there are substantial resources in federal coastal waters.

Opening Tuesday’s hearing, Rahall said “the coastal states are critical in this discussion.”

Support for offshore energy development among the states that no do not have it ranges from tepid to staunch opposition.
Like Schwarzenegger in California, the governors of Oregon and Washington also have made clear their opposition to opening federal waters off their coasts to drilling, said Chrisman.

The Bush administration portrayed Virginia as being ready to accept oil development, but Rahall released a letter from Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine asking Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to postpone any lease sale off Virginia. While the state favors exploration for natural gas off its coast, “Our policies do not support exploration for oil or production of gas or oil,” Kaine wrote in the letter dated Feb. 19.

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