STATE – On Monday, top New Jersey Democrats called for a permanent ban on offshore oil and gas drilling from Maine to North Carolina.
Gov. Jon Corzine, U.S. Senators Frank Lautenberg and Bob Menendez, and U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone said that the ban is needed to protect the New Jersey shore, which is critical to the state’s economy.
President George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain, the expected Republican presidential nominee, both favor repealing the federal ban on coastal drilling in response to the public outcry over gasoline prices that have topped $4 per gallon, but Democrats disagree.
“Ending the moratorium on offshore drilling is not the answer to lowering prices at the pump,” Pallone said.
“They want to make it sound as if we can run a pipeline from the ocean floor straight into our gas tanks, but it’s really a plan that won’t have any effect on gas prices for a decade and even then will only amount to a handful of pennies,” Menendez said. “This is why we have led the defeat of four separate attempts in the Senate to open up the coastline to drilling and why we are championing legislation to permanently ban drilling along our coastline….We are still working to pass Senate legislation that will crack down on speculation that artificially raises gas prices while investing in the renewable energy we need for the future of this economy and this planet.”
Bush’s father signed an executive order banning coastal oil exploration in 1990. Offshore drilling is also prohibited by a Congressional ban.
No one knows for certain how much oil is in the area off-limits to oil exploration, which includes coastal waters as well as the Artic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. The federal Energy Information Administration estimates that roughly 75 billion barrels of oil in the United States may be found in all areas of the country that are off-limits to oil exploration and that 21 percent of this oil – or about 16 billion barrels – is covered by the offshore moratorium.
Corzine said Monday, “We are really talking about something that is irrelevant to the overall dependency on oil. What we need to do is (to) be moving to alternative energies and most importantly (to) conservation,” he said.
The New Jersey Democrats fear the impact that an accident could have on the states tourism economy, evoking the memories of New York medical waste washing up on New Jersey beaches in the 1980s.
Menendez said California beaches where offshore oil drilling occurs are devoid of tourists, and New Jersey beaches could look the same if the moratorium is lifted.
Corzine said, “I can’t think of an idea (lifting the off-shore drilling moratorium) whose time is less appropriate than this one. For New Jersey, where we have a $38 billion economy in tourism … it makes absolutely no sense for us.”
The governor called the state’s beaches “the lifeblood of our economy and a fragile environmental treasure.” He added, “In many respects, it shapes our way of life, and we will fight any attempt to jeopardize it.”
Lautenberg said oil companies are currently using only one quarter of the federal land leases they have acquired over the years. “A plan to drill here is no plan at all. It’s a handout, simply a handout to the oil companies,” Lautenberg said. “It’s a terrible idea. And drilling will do nothing to cut today’s gas prices.”
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