AUGUSTA, Maine — Drilling for oil and gas in the Gulf of Maine, wind power farms off the coast and tidal power will be among the issues a task force will study in the next few months to help craft a new state energy strategy, Gov. John Baldacci said Thursday in an interview.
“I’m determined that we are going to have an energy package on the front end of this legislative session,” he said. “We are going to make sure next winter and the winter afterwards is going to be easier and easier and less reliant on foreign sources and more independent.”
Baldacci said he expects to name the task force “in a few days,” and it will have a short time to assess “all the options” for reducing reliance on foreign energy sources. He said that will include looking at whether the state should support drilling for oil and natural gas in the Gulf of Maine.
“We have to look at everything,” he said. “We’ve got to get off foreign oil. We have to be more independent for our own national security.”
But, Baldacci said, a preliminary review of existing data by state geologists indicates little chance of finding significant oil or gas deposits in the Gulf of Maine.
“But we have to look at that as well as wind power, and there are opportunities for tidal power that need to be explored,” he said.
Baldacci has directed that the task force have representation from various interest groups to allow for a broad discussion of the issues.
“I want the benefit of the thinking of a comprehensive group,” he said.
While state territorial waters end three miles from their shores, Maine and the 18 other coastal states have “administrative zones” established in 2006 to help the federal government determine areas that would be affected by energy development.
While states will not have the final say, they will have significant impact on any drilling because any pipelines that bring the crude oil or gas to shore will travel through state territorial waters.
The prospect of offshore drilling concerns environmentalists and has bipartisan opposition across the country.
South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, a Republican, is opposed to offshore drilling because of the potential impact on tourist attractions. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, is worried about the potential impact of drilling on the fisheries industry.
“I welcome the governor’s initiative,” said Sen. Libby Mitchell, D-Vassalboro, the Senate Majority Leader. “We are going to have to look at things anew, but that does not mean, in any way, that we want to sacrifice our environmental responsibilities.”
She co-chairs a legislative committee that is looking at energy issues and said the group has concluded the next session will have a major focus on both short- and long-term energy needs.
“I don’t think Maine people will be fooled one bit by the lower oil prices today. They will remember what they were and where they could go again,” she said. “I think there is strong, bipartisan support for becoming energy-independent.”
Rep. Josh Tardy, R-Newport, the House GOP floor leader, said he is pleased Baldacci is taking an “aggressive” approach to the state’s energy needs. He applauded the governor’s inclusion of all possible domestic energy sources, including offshore drilling.
“We have untapped resources and it seems to me that no matter what happens in this election cycle, we need to unite behind the request to become energy-independent,” he said.
But, Tardy said, the state is facing serious budget problems and that will affect any effort in the near term to move toward the goal of energy independence.
“Sounds like he is taking a John McCain approach,” said Tardy, who is co-chairman of McCain’s Maine campaign.
Baldacci said he was pleased that Barack Obama indicated that energy would be his No. 1 issue in his administration if he is elected.
“I think the way out of this recession is going to be energy,” Baldacci said, “moving our state and this country away from imported oil to our own energy resources.”
Even if Maine supports drilling and significant deposits are found, it’s estimated the soonest that leases in those areas could be offered is 2011, and actual drilling is unlikely to start before 2015.