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Lawmakers Seek to Bar Drilling Off Northern California Coast

Two U.S. House Democrats from California introduced separate bills during the first week of the 111th Congress seeking to bar oil and natural gas drilling off the state's northern coast.

A measure sponsored by Rep. Mike Thompson would permanently prohibit oil and gas drilling off the coasts of Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties. He contends that drilling off the northern coast of California would cause serious harm to the productive ecosystem and abundant marine life found in the coastal waters.

The issue of offshore drilling became a "political drama" in 2008, rather than a "policy debate," Thompson said. "My legislation is one aspect of a broader campaign to restore sensible science-based policy and ensure the health of our oceans for generations."

Rep. Lynn Woolsey's legislation would designate the waters off the Sonoma Coast in northern California as a protected national marine sanctuary, permanently banning coastal drilling within the expanded area.

"These waters are among the most biologically productive on the planet and support a tremendous amount of biodiversity. That's why it's our responsibility to do everything that we can to protect this area from man-made threats such as drilling," she said.

Woolsey's bill, which was first introduced last year, cleared the House but later stalled in the Senate. "I am committed to doing everything that I can to move this forward, and won't let up until it's signed into law by President Obama."

Drilling offshore, as reflected in the two measures, is expected to be a contentious issue in the new Congress. Currently there are no restrictions on drilling off the West and East Coasts. Both the presidential and congressional restrictions were removed in 2008, but producers are concerned that the Obama administration and/or new Congress may move to reinstate them (see NGI, Dec. 22, 2008).

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