PORTLAND — Drilling for oil and gas off of the Oregon Coast has long been seen as a dicey proposition — filled with potential pitfalls, and without certainty that there’s much to find in the first place.
That’s not stopping Gov. Kate Brown from making it a campaign issue.
In an announcement short on details and long on promises to stand up to President Donald Trump, the governor said Monday that she’s planning to sign an executive order in coming days that will “permanently ban offshore drilling along the Oregon Coast.”
“The executive order will make it very clear to the oil and gas industries that Oregon is not for sale,” Brown said during a press conference in downtown Portland.
The move is Brown’s latest response to news earlier this year that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke plans to open up federally controlled offshore areas around the country to oil and gas exploration. Following that announcement, Brown and other West Coast governors pressed Zinke for an exemption to potential drilling, something he extended to Florida.
Brown says she’s still waiting for clarity.
“For the past nine months I’ve been calling on Secretary Zinke to rescind his expansion on drilling for the Oregon Coast,” she said. “Despite his promise to give our state certainty, nothing is happening. Time is up.”
Specifics of what Brown has in mind weren’t plentiful at the announcement. The state controls a band of water and land extending 3 miles out from its coastline, and that area currently has a state-enforced moratorium on oil and gas drilling.
The federal government has say over the continental shelf beyond the 3-mile point. Asked how she intended to exert control over that area, Brown said only that she’d “cover” the continental shelf with her executive order “and we will work to pass legislation to make that it’s incorporated into state statute so that the next governor cannot just erase it with a pen.”
A draft copy of the order is not available, Brown said.
Following the event, staff from the Oregon League of Conservation Voters and the governor’s office clarified that the proposal actually targets infrastructure within the 3-mile zone Oregon controls. Brown is essentially planning to order state agencies not to issue permits for piers, pipelines and other structures that would be needed to support an offshore drilling rig. California passed similar legislation earlier this year.
The move is likely to appeal to some voters as Brown enters the final days of a highly competitive re-election bid against Republican state Rep. Knute Buehler. There’s little evidence it’s immediately necessary.
As Oregon Public Broadcasting has reported, no one has drilled off the Oregon Coast since 1964, when companies turned up very little. There are possibly 810 million barrels of “undiscovered technically recoverable” oil and gas off the coast of the Pacific Northwest, but it’s unclear how much of that would be feasible to collect.
Even Brown has suggested in the past that Zinke has little faith that drilling would occur off of Oregon. She told the Huffington Post in March that Zinke had told her “that the return on investment is not very lucrative for offshore drilling, off of Oregon and Washington coasts. The return on investment is not good. We know that.”
Asked about that Monday, Brown said the lack of further clarity from federal officials forced her hand.
“There’s no reason why they shouldn’t have given us certainty when I asked for it nine months ago,” she said. “We’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting (for them) to say no we’re gonna exclude Oregon. They wouldn’t give me that promise. That’s why we’re moving forward.”
At the event, Brown appeared with officials with the Sierra Club and Oregon League of Conservation Voters, along with two members of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.