AUGUSTA, Maine — Drilling for oil or natural gas off the coast of Maine would be banned under legislation being proposed by Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, a bill sure to generate controversy.
“I am convinced that the coast of Maine is too precious to let drilling happen off that coast,” he said in an interview, “and I am convinced if we don’t have a ban in place, somebody will drill.”
Martin said with Congress allowing the federal ban on offshore drilling to lapse a few months ago, he believes there will be efforts to drill in the Gulf of Maine.
“The federal government has basically indicated that the states can make that decision, and given it to us to decide; I have legislation, which I will submit, that will prevent drilling off the Maine coast,” he said. “We can’t let drilling happen.”
While state territorial waters end three miles from their shores, Maine and the 18 other coastal states have “administrative zones” established in 2006 by Congress to help the federal government determine areas that would be affected by energy development.
States will not have the final say, but they will have significant impact on any drilling because any pipelines bringing the crude oil or gas to shore will travel through state territorial waters and be subject to state laws and regulations.
“There are other steps we can take to get our energy independence without relying on oil,” Martin said. “We have great resources that we can use in our woods and with wind power.”
But, even though he agrees that wood and wind power are crucial to Maine’s energy independence, Gov. John Baldacci said he opposes banning all drilling. He said his Ocean Energy Task Force is looking at all energy options. The panel includes a wide range of members, including environmentalists and members of the busi-ness community.
“I have an obligation to do a complete inventory of what is available,” he said. “I may agree in the end that we should not drill, but I need the facts. Maine people want the facts.”
Baldacci said that a review of existing data by state geologists indicates little chance of finding significant oil or gas deposits in the Gulf of Maine. But, he said, banning all drilling is premature until a more thorough review of geologic data can be completed.
“I think we have to undertake a review and inventory,” he said. “There is a need and an interest to look at everything.”
Rep. Josh Tardy, R-Newport, the House GOP floor leader, said it would be a mistake for the state to ban drilling without first fully exploring the potential of oil and gas off Maine’s coast.
“To take away an option right now when we are in an energy crisis in the United States would be the wrong thing to do,” he said. “I continue to advocate for us to have a comprehensive, all-of-the-above approach. If we take away the ability to drill and explore off our coast, we are doing a disservice not only to Maine, but to the nation.”
The prospect of offshore drilling concerns environmentalists across the country, and has bipartisan opposition as well. South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, a Republican, is opposed to offshore drilling because of the potential impact on tourist attractions in his state. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, is worried about the potential impact of drilling on the fisheries industry of his state.
Martin said there should be a total ban on drilling. He said allowing exploratory drilling puts the Gulf of Maine unnecessarily at risk from pollution.
“Let’s face it, you let them drill at all and they will want to drill everywhere,” he said.
Baldacci said he wants to see the report of his task force before he decides whether his administration will oppose or support Martin’s bill.
“I want to see the specifics of his bill,” he said. “My preference is wind [power], but we have to look at everything that is out there.”
While Martin has submitted his bill, it has yet to be printed and referred to committee. He expects it will go to the Natural Resources Committee, one of the Legislature’s committees that he has been appointed to serve on for this session.
Even if lawmakers decide to support exploratory drilling and significant deposits of oil or gas are found, it’s estimated the soonest that leases for those areas could be offered is 2012 and actual drilling would be unlikely to start before 2015.