With an abbreviated off-year, one-month special session scheduled for February, the Oregon Legislature is being urged by environmental groups to revisit a three-year moratorium on offshore oil/natural gas drilling in state coastal waters — either through extending the moratorium that expired last Saturday or by enacting a permanent ban.

Among other groups, Environment Oregon is pushing for the legislature to renew the moratorium at least when it meets for the one-month session, in which energy efficiency, solar feed-in tariffs and renewable energy goals have all been identified as potential issues to be taken up by the lower state House Committee on Sustainability and Economic Development.

“Since the 1980s there have been moratoria of various forms in place for both state and federal waters,” said the Environment Oregon’s website section devoted to banning offshore drilling. “By 1994 it was perceived the threat had passed, and Oregon’s moratorium on offshore oil/gas drilling in Oregon’s territorial waters [3.5 miles out from shore] was allowed to expire. By the early part of [the last] decade, however, the threat had reemerged.”

A recent report in the Portland Oregonian speculated that oil/gas companies are not expected to “make a bid anytime soon for offshore drilling in Oregon.” The news report said the environmental groups with backing from several key state legislators want to send a strong message that Oregon’s waters are “off limits.”

However, the Oregonian report also said state lawmakers may decide not to address the highly emotional issue in the short session this year, particularly if voters shoot down what it called “proposed tax increases” this month, forcing the legislature to have to concentrate on budget cuts during the February session.

The legislature’s interim committee draft issues released Monday indicated that committee bill proposals for the short session will all have to be approved by the lower House speaker, and that will happen later in January. During the actual February session there are no deadlines for House committee bill introductions.

Environment Oregon officials said the threat of oil/gas spills is still very real, and they cite the August 2009 oil/gas spill from an oil platform off the Northwest Shelf of Australia that they claim is still leaking unchecked at the rate of up to 2-3,000 b/d.

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