NJ senators lead effort to keep Virginia acreage in OCS ban

New Jersey's two US senators led an effort to defeat an amendment proposed by Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) on June 14 that would have removed Outer Continental Shelf acreage off Virginia from a congressional oil and gas leasing ban.

Nick Snow
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON, DC, June 15 -- New Jersey's two US senators led an effort to defeat an amendment proposed by Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) on June 14 that would have removed Outer Continental Shelf acreage off Virginia from a congressional oil and gas leasing ban.

During debate on the Senate majority's energy bill, Democrat Sens. Frank R. Lautenberg and Robert Menendez said they oppose oil and gas activity off Virginia's coast because it would be too close to New Jersey's shoreline resort areas.

"The scheme we defeated would not only pose short-term threats, but it could have led us down a slippery slope that ends in drilling up and down the East Coast," Menendez said following the defeat of Warner's amendment by 44 to 43 votes.

The amendment would have allowed each governor of the nine Atlantic Coast states from Maine to Florida to petition the US Interior secretary to begin gas leasing at least 50 miles beyond that state's coast. Other states' officials in the region would then have had the opportunity to respond.

Half of the revenues would have been deposited in the US Department of the Treasury. Of the remaining half, 75% would have gone to the state submitting the petition, 12.5% to the state through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and 12.5% into a reserve to mitigate any environmental damage from exploration and development activities on the leases.

A state would have had to previously pass legislation supporting oil and gas exploration and development off its coast before its governor could petition the Interior secretary under Warner's amendment. Warner also added a provision requiring the US Defense secretary's approval prior to leasing after Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) expressed concern that leasing could interfere with military activities.

Warner said Virginia approved legislation to authorize exploration off the state's coast, but not extraction of any resources. Consequently, he said his amendment would require passage of an additional bill to allow production before a state's governor could submit a petition to the Interior secretary.

"I once again note that this bill is natural gas only. There is no mention, no request for other products such as oil," Warner said.

Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) said drilling is not taking place off Virginia's coast not only because of the moratorium which Congress passes each year, but also because of a presidential withdrawal which remains in force.

Lautenberg said oil spills from production off Virginia's coast would be still be possible despite leases being restricted to gas because oil almost always is discovered with gas. "So not only can natural gas have environmental problems, but drilling for natural gas can easily result in puncturing oil deposits and causing major spills," he said.

Governors from New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, and Maine have written letters to Congress urging it to not allow drilling off the East Coast, according to Lautenberg. "The energy we might be able to get there pales in comparison to the damage we could do to our coastlines in a very short time," he said.

Menendez initially offered an amendment that directly countered Warner's, and then one which required the Virginian's amendment to receive 60 votes for passage, which the Senate accepted. The Warner amendment was withdrawn after 44 members voted against it and 43 voted for it.

Contact Nick Snow at nsnow@cox.net.

More in General Interest