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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.

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Before the House approved the measure, Republicans on the Natural Resources Committee had warned it would cut off access to potential future supplies of oil and gas, even as oil prices topped $100 per barrel.

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"The industry is concerned about the overall issue of supply versus demand: Every drop of oil we can't produce domestically from US reserves is replaced by a drop of foreign imports," says Joe Sparano, president of the Western States Petroleum Association, a trade group. "But … we have respect for what appears to be a very strong and clear signal from the public."

Others note that California's opposition to offshore drilling puts more pressure on other domestic oil-producing regions, such as Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico. It's not known how much oil or gas could lie in the areas that would be newly protected.

"The standoff between environmentalism and energy realities is something this country will have to confront, not at the state level but the federal level, and not just about issues in California but in other areas of the country where we have oil," says Herb London, president of the Hudson Institute, a Washington think tank.

There has been scant new federal protection of ocean regions in recent years, notes William Moomaw, professor of international environmental policy at the Fletcher School of Tufts University, in Medford, Mass. The last significant move was in June 2006, when Mr. Bush signed a proclamation creating the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument, which put 140,000 square miles of coral reef ecosystem under the nation's toughest marine environmental protection.

Enlarging the sanctuaries is of enormous importance to the well-being of the fishing industry, which has been socked by mounting fishing restrictions, says Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations.