By Mal Leary
Maine Public news story
Maine’s two U.S. senators say they are opposed to President Donald Trump’s proposal that would open federal waters on the East Coast to oil and gas drilling.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced the proposal this week that would allow new offshore oil and gas drilling in nearly all U.S. coastal waters, granting energy companies access to leases off California for the first time in decades and opening more than a billion acres in the Arctic and along the Eastern Seaboard.
The proposal would lift a ban put in place by President Barack Obama a few years ago.
“There has been no discussion of Maine, yet. But it hasn’t been ruled out,” says Republican U.S. Susan Collins. “It would endanger our marine resources, our fishing industry, our way of life, our tourism industry.”
Zinke says that the Obama action blocked drilling on about 94 percent of the Outer Continental Shelf, the submerged offshore area between state coastal waters and the deep ocean. Those restrictions, he claims, cost the U.S. billions of dollars in lost revenue, and he says this proposal would make about 90 percent of those waters available for leasing.
Federal research suggests however, that the Gulf of Maine lacks the right geology to be a likely site of commercial deposits of oil or natural gas.
“Drilling off the Maine coast is just a terrible idea,” says independent U.S. Sen. Angus King.
King says even if there were deposits, they are not worth the risks of a spill.
“The cost of any incident to our coastal industry, whether it is fisheries or recreation, would far outweigh any benefits to the state of Maine or to the country,” he says.
The move by the Trump administration should not come as a surprise. Trump signed an executive order last April requiring the Interior Department to review the Obama ban.
Collins says while the House may support implementing legislation to allow the drilling, she doubts the Senate will.
“This is one that would be subjected to a filibuster, most likely, and I don’t think the 60 votes are there in the Senate to allow it to proceed. The House could well pass it. But I don’t think the Senate would,” she says.
Both of Maine’s representatives to Congress, Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree and Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, released statements saying they’re opposed to drilling off the coast of Maine. Mainers will have the opportunity to tell federal officials what they think of the plan at a public hearing in Augusta.