A recent federal study in the U.S. may hint a shift in the Clinton administration's attitude toward Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) development-or it may be only posturing.
Vice-President Al Gore released a report containing 148 recommendations for strengthening ocean policy. A task force will oversee implementation of the measures.
President Bill Clinton requested the report in June 1998 at the National Ocean Conference in Monterey, Calif., where he also extended OCS leasing moratoriums until 2012 (OGJ, June 22, 1998, p. 32).
The study's key recommendations called for incentives to reduce overfishing, Senate approval of the Law of the Sea treaty, meshing of federal programs with local "smart growth" efforts in coastal communities, and expansion of underwater exploration.
Gore also announced the U.S. would double to 24 nautical miles (27.6 land miles) the zone in which the law enforcement agencies will protect against overfishing, drug smuggling, illegal immigration, and ocean pollution.
International law allows a nation to claim a territorial sea up to 12 nautical miles from its coast, and a contiguous zone extending another 12 miles in which it can act to prevent violations of its laws.
The report recognized the need for OCS production and the oil industry's safety and environmental achievements.
It recommended that the U.S. increase research on how to minimize risks to human safety and to coastal and ocean environments.
It said the government should work with stakeholders through meetings, workshops, and negotiations "to ensure environmentally sound and safe OCS energy extraction."
It said federal regulators should continue efforts to provide states and other stakeholders with early information on proposed OCS oil and gas exploration and other activities.
It recommended the U.S. encourage production of natural gas, "as a cleaner source of energy, from areas where production is still permitted under the OCS moratoriums."
The report said OCS activities would benefit if the Senate approved the long-pending Law of the Sea treaty pact.
And it said the government should accelerate research on marine gas hydrates (methane and other gases existing in a frozen state below the ocean floor) as a potential long-term energy source.
Paul Kelly, Rowan Cos. Inc. senior vice-president, participated in the Monterey forum last year.
He said, "I am glad to see the report takes a more balanced approach towards offshore energy, recognizing how vital oil and gas resources contained in the OCS are to our domestic energy supplies and national security.
"Natural gas reserves offshore are particularly important because this fuel has major environmental benefits over other fossil fuels."
Kelly said the report admits that technological advances have made offshore oil and gas production cleaner and safer.
He said ratification of the Law of the Sea treaty would "avoid disputes among nations over offshore oil and gas resources because of uncertain maritime boundaries."