This week, Ecology Director Maia Bellon submitted an official letter to the U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke strongly opposing a federal proposal to allow offshore oil and natural gas leasing on Washington’s outer continental shelf for the first time in 30 years.
Director Bellon told Zinke there was “no reasonable, rational justification” to open our coast to petroleum exploration, development, and production.
“I am committed to protecting and managing our irreplaceable marine ecosystems now and for future generations,” Bellon said. “Our coastal communities and thousands of residents depend on having a healthy and productive coastal environment to maintain their livelihoods, homes, families, and quality of life.”
Proposed federal program conflicts with state laws and policies
Bellon said the proposed changes to the federal leasing program conflict with current Washington laws, policies, and goals to protect our environment — including current ocean uses and resources such as fishing, shellfish aquaculture, recreation and tourism, international maritime shipping, and military training.
“Washington’s coast encompasses significant tribal cultural, environmental, and economic treaty-protected resources,” Bellon said. “Protecting tribal treaty rights is paramount.”
“We all depend on having an abundant, highly productive marine ecosystem that supports a wide range of sensitive marine species and habitats,” Bellon said.
U.S. Interior’s proposed leasing plan indicates the federal government would offer a lease sale to allow companies to exploit potential petroleum resources along Washington’s outer continental shelf. A lease would allow companies to engage in oil and gas exploration, development, and production activities.
Potential oil and gas leasing activities increase marine pollution risks
Oil spills and hazardous chemical releases associated with extracting and transporting petroleum products put Washington’s environment, economy, and cultural resources at risk.
The state draft Marine Spatial Plan includes data on the economic value and use patterns off Washington’s coast. The plan shows the commercial and recreational fisheries that would be displaced and adversely effected by potential oil and gas activities, including oil spills.
In addition, the state currently has no existing oil or gas leases anywhere off the coast. “Our state has such low potential for oil and gas production that new development would not significantly add to the nation’s energy supply,” Bellon said.
Climate change, earthquakes, and coastal marine sanctuary
Besides oil spills and chemical releases, Bellon said the proposed federal program has not considered other risks including negative climate change consequences, potential catastrophic offshore earthquakes and tsunamis along the Cascadia fault line, and severe weather and storm events on the Pacific Ocean.
Since the federal proposal would also include the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, Bellon said the Interior Department lacks the legal authority to issue oil and gas leases in the sanctuary.
Bellon told Zinke offshore oil and gas leasing, exploration, and development activities have a high potential to damage our environment, cause irreversible harm to our coastal communities and resources, and disrupt current ocean uses on Washington’s coast.
“Offshore leasing activities are completely at odds with our state’s vision for a sustainable and prosperous future,” Bellon said.
The public comment period closes March 9 and Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will review the information and feedback it has received. The federal agency is expected to issue an updated offshore oil and gas leasing proposal and a related draft Environmental Impact Statement.