More waters off California may be off limits to oil drilling
Congress is poised to expand two marine sanctuaries along the state's wild north coast.
A stretch of the Pacific Ocean off California's wild north coast seems poised to get permanent federal protection from oil exploration and other development, in recognition that the area lies within one of the four richest marine feeding grounds in the world.Skip to next paragraph
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The US Senate is expected this week to vote in favor of extending two marine sanctuaries to cover ocean waters off a 76-mile stretch of the Sonoma County and south Mendocino County coasts – a move that would be a major victory for California in its 50-year battle to restrict offshore oil drilling. The House of Representatives approved the measure April 1.
"After decades of struggle, the door has opened to the national significance of this region," says Richard Charter of the environmental group Defenders of Wildlife. He says 25 years of give and take by oil interests, environmentalists, and politicians have finally aligned, even as public interest in beach protection is rising.
President Bush is likely to sign the bill because of its many supporters, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, state and local governments, the fishing industry, conservation groups, and marine scientists, say close observers.
California's Mendocino-Sonoma region is probably best known for its onshore beauty: soaring redwoods, the rolling hills of wine country, a rugged coastline. But its offshore attributes are no less unique. The natural interaction of wind and water currents brings nutrients up from the ocean floor and distributes them along the California coast – providing sustenance for birds and marine life, including endangered salmon, Steller sea lions, gray whales, and northern fur seals.
A high-profile spill of 58,000 gallons of fuel oil from a tanker that struck the San Francisco Bay Bridge in November – closing fisheries, ending crab season, and fouling beaches – was an added catalyst to the legislation, Mr. Charter and others say. Several members of Congress whose districts were hit by the spill have become sponsors or supporters of the bill in recent months.
"They are more concerned because they've realized we really haven't gotten that much better in cleaning [oil spills] up," Charter says.