Proposed Bill Would Permanently Ban West Coast Offshore Drilling

Image via Rep. Jared Huffman.

Legislation introduced in Congress by two California Democrats in late January would permanently ban oil and gas drilling in federal waters off the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington.

The West Coast Ocean Protection Act of 2023, introduced by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, (D-Calif.), would amend the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to permanently prohibit offshore drilling off the coasts of all three states for the protection of marine ecosystems.

Huffman and Feinstein said according to recent polling by the Public Policy Institute of California, nearly 70% of Californians oppose offshore drilling.

“Offshore drilling poses unacceptable risks, and the science and public opinion are clear: we should not put our oceans and fisheries, coastal communities, economies and planet at risk just to enrich the fossil-fuel industry,” Huffman said.

“We’re in the midst of a historic transition to cleaner energy sources, including offshore wind, said Feinstein.

“Offshore drilling and the risks it poses to the environment and our robust ocean and coastal economies are not part of that clean-energy future.”

California began efforts to block offshore drilling in 1969, when an oil rig off the coast of Santa Barbara leaked three million gallons of crude oil into the ocean, blanketing beaches with a thick layer of oil and killing thousands of marine mammals and birds.

It was the largest oil spill in U.S. history until the Exxon Valdez spillage in Alaska 20 years later.

After the 1969 Santa Barbara spill, California blocked all new offshore oil drilling in state waters. The state reinforced that ban in 1994 by passing the California Coastal Sanctuary Act, which prohibited new leasing in state waters.

Then in October of 2021, a ruptured pipeline from an existing oil well spilled more than 25,000 gallons of crude oil into the ocean and onto beaches in Orange County. The spill covered more than 8,000 acres of the ocean’s surface and required over a week of cleanup while local businesses and fisheries suffered.

No new offshore drilling has been allowed in federal waters along the Pacific Coast since 1984. The Trump administration released a five-year offshore leasing plan in 2018 that proposed opening up the entire West Coast to new drilling, despite widespread opposition in Pacific coast states, but that proposal was blocked by the courts.