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Offshore Drilling Ban Heads To Oregon Gov. Kate Brown's Desk

<p>The Shell Oil drilling rig Polar Pioneer arrived in Port Angeles on April 17, 2015.</p>

Gil Aegerter/KUOW

The Shell Oil drilling rig Polar Pioneer arrived in Port Angeles on April 17, 2015.

A bill to ban drilling off Oregon’s coast is headed to the desk of Gov. Kate Brown, after passing the state House of Representatives on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 256 makes permanent an existing moratorium on oil and gas exploration on state-controlled waters within 3 miles of Oregon’s shore. It also ensures state agencies don’t approve projects that could assist drilling in the federally controlled waters farther out.

The bill was touted by Brown ahead of this year’s legislative session, and is a reaction to federal policies that would open up more coastal waters for energy exploration. It now heads to Brown’s desk for a signature, after passing the House on a 47-8 vote.

“Colleagues, your constituents come to visit us and when they do they come to see our magnificent vistas and our sun and moonlight off the waves,” Rep. David Gomberg, a Central Coast Democrat and bill sponsor, said on the House floor. “They don’t come to see the glaring lights of oil rigs reflected in those waves.”

He was joined in support by Rep. David Brock Smith, R-Port Orford, who spoke up to ask his fellow Republicans to support the measure.

“I’m hopeful as this has been a bicameral, bipartisan piece of legislation … that many of my House colleagues will join me in supporting this piece of legislation for those economic values that we all hold dear,” said Brock Smith, who’d touted the economic benefits of the coastal fishing industry.

In the end, eight of the chamber’s 22 Republicans voted against the measure.

The legislation is the second bill related to energy exploration to pass the House this week. On Monday, the chamber approved legislation for a 10-year moratorium on fracking, a controversial practice for extracting oil and gas. That bill now heads to the Senate.

The offshore drilling bill, in the end, might contain more symbolic weight than pressing policy. No one has drilled off the Oregon coast since 1964. There are possibly 810 million barrels of "undiscovered, technically recoverable" oil and gas off the coast of the Pacific Northwest, according to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, but it’s unclear how much of that would be feasible to collect.

Copyright 2019 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Dirk VanderHart is JPR's Salem correspondent reporting from the Oregon State Capitol. His reporting is funded through a collaboration among public radio stations in Oregon and Washington that includes JPR.