Gore promises to end offshore oil drilling if elected President

US Vice President Al Gore has promised that as President, his “profoundly moral obligation" to work for progress toward a cleaner environment will include putting an end to all new oil drilling in federal waters off the shores of California and Florida.

Speaking at the Seacoast Science Centre in New Hampshire as part of his campaign for the Democratic Presidential nomination, Gore said that “the environment is much more than a policy position to me; it is a profoundly moral obligation.” Gore went on to outline his plans to improve the standard of living in communities, preserve open spaces and limit urban sprawl and traffic congestion:

  • $1 billion in federal funds to promote the preservation of open spaces, building and renovation of parks, improvement of water quality, and redevelopment of brownfield sites.
  • The reduction of traffic and air pollution, and the strengthening of a sense of community by investing in public transport, encouraging cycling and walking, and developing alternatives to cars.
  • Regional cooperation using planning and mapping tools to solve traffic, air pollution, and employment problems

But it was Gore’s pledge to end new oil drilling off California and Florida and to prevent drilling even where companies already hold offshore leases if the public opposes it that caused the most controversy.

“I will take the most sweeping steps in our history to protect our oceans and coastal waters from offshore oil drilling,” Al Gore said. “I will make sure that there is no new oil leasing off the coasts of California and Florida. And then I will go much further: I will do everything in my power to make sure that there is no new drilling off these sensitive coasts – even in areas already leased for drilling by previous administrations.”

At the National Ocean Conference last year in Monterey, the Clinton Administration announced a 10-year extension of the offshore leasing moratorium off much of the US coast, and a permanent ban on leasing in national marine sanctuaries.

“Government policy towards offshore exploration for oil and gas should be guided by a careful analysis of the country’s needs and the best knowledge of what can be done with current technology, not politics, the American Petroleum Institute said in a statement. “There is no rationale for continuing the moratoria after their expiration dates. The U.S. Department of Energy, in a recent report, praised the oil and gas industry for integrating an ‘environmental ethic’ into its business culture and operations and for its commitment to protecting the environment.

“America needs oil and natural gas and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Our companies can provide these fuels – safely and cleanly — but only if companies are allowed access to areas where oil and gas exist. A failure to do so will only continue to drive investments overseas and our dependence on foreign oil and gas will become even larger.”

Oil companies are proposing new drilling under existing leases off the coasts of California and Florida. The state of California has raised concerns about the proposed drilling off its coast, and the Interior Department has requested additional information from the oil companies. The state of Florida has determined that the proposed drilling off its coast would be inconsistent with its coastal zone management plan, but Chevron has appealed that decision to Commerce Secretary William Daley.

Meanwhile, environmentalists praised the Vice President pledge to halt drilling as a move that will safeguard beaches, strengthen coastal economies and protect marine habitats.

Claiming that “the vast majority of residents [in California and Florida] want their coasts free of oil drilling,” Sierra Club’s executive director Carl Pope said Gore had “drawn a line in the sand, demonstrating his concern for clean water and clean coasts…challenging the other presidential candidates to show the same commitment.”

Mark Massara, Director of Sierra Club’s California Coastal Program pointed out that tourism and recreation drive California’s coastal economy, to the tune of around $12 billion annually while off-shore oil drilling contributes less than 7 percent of that amount.

Frank Jackalone, Director of Sierra Club’s Florida Office reiterated his opposition to Chevron’s plan to drill for natural gas off of the Florida Panhandle, and welcomed Gore’s measures in the fight to protect Florida’s coastal habitat and tourism and fishing economies.

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