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Offshore Drilling, Infrastructure Stir Oregon Legislative Pot

Two issues are stirring the pot for Oregon lawmakers: No. 1, legislators are working to stop potential offshore oil/gas drilling along the state's coastline. No. 2, and separately a business-labor coalition went to the state capital last Wednesday to take aim at the legislature to correct what it characterizes as a flawed regulatory permitting system for energy infrastructure.

To support changes in the state's permitting system, Energy Action Northwest, the business-labor group, staged a rally in the rain seeking support of various proposed bills aimed at creating more jobs in the infrastructure sector, particularly one that is lying dormant from last year (SB 1020) in the state Senate.

Separately, the lower House in the state legislature in Salem, OR, last week passed an offshore drilling ban for the next 10 years along a three-mile-wide coastal strip. The measure, HB 3613, would extend a three-year drilling ban passed by state lawmakers in 2007. Monday's House passage sends the measure on to the state Senate.

An energy industry participant in Salem told NGI Wednesday that although the offshore drilling ban is likely to pass, it is mostly ceremonial because it is doubtful there would every be much interest among exploration/development companies to drill in the state waters along Oregon's Coast.

Local news coverage cited lawmakers on both sides of the offshore issue -- proponents saying the state cannot afford to risk its offshore resources, and other lawmakers concerned about losing potential jobs that offshore drilling might provide.

Jobs were the focus of the political rally in Salem held in conjunction with the Oregon AFL-CIO and Oregon State Building and Construction Trades Council. They sought to reinforce for lawmakers the support for various bills designed to increase new jobs in the state, including ones tied to streamlining regulatory permitting to get new energy and transportation infrastructure built.

"Electricity lines and natural gas pipeline projects are unreasonably burdened in the critical early stages of the permitting process," said Tom Ivancie, Energy Action's executive director. "This creates needless delays in project implementation and significant delay in job creation that is so desperately needed to revive Oregon's economy."

After the rally, Ivancie told NGI Thursday he thinks the political action will motivate the state lawmakers to correct the infrastructure roadblocks. "We really hope to get movement in the state Senate because right now [SB 1020] is just sitting there on legislators' desks and no one is taking any action. After the rally, we think the legislators are going to wake up as to how important this is to get people back to work and build a foundation for a strong energy future in the region."

On the offshore ban, Oregon's environmental and fishing industry representatives, which are usually on opposite sides of legislative issues, joined in supporting the extension of the drilling moratorium. A Western States Petroleum Association representative, Brian Doherty, was quoted by news media as confirming that the industry so far has not found proven commercial quantities of oil or natural gas in state offshore waters, but the trade group opposed the ban anyway.

An unlimited ban was first proposed in the House, but the 10-year extension eventually was worked as compromise with the oil/gas industry interests.

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