Feds open to expanding oil-drilling protection on North Coast
Published: Monday, February 11, 2013 at 6:02 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 7:06 a.m.
Federal officials say they are open to suggestions from the public that more of the North Coast should be protected from offshore oil drilling under a proposed expansion of two marine sanctuaries.
"We want to know the scope of the area we should be looking at," said Maria Brown, superintendent of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.
Brown and other sanctuary officials will attend the second of three public meetings on the sanctuary plan at 6 p.m. today in Point Arena, followed by the third meeting Wednesday in Gualala.
Officials are interested in the "boundary options" people might propose, as well as any "additional regulations" in the protected areas, Brown said.
Rachel Binah of Little River in Mendocino County, a longtime foe of offshore oil development, said the sanctuaries should extend to the Oregon border or beyond.
"I think the whole West Coast should be protected," said Binah, who plans to attend both meetings.
Mendocino County Supervisor Dan Gjerde, who plans to attend the Gualala meeting, wants the sanctuaries to cover the entire Mendocino coast, an area he described as "pristine."
Oil drilling is not "imminent this year" on the North Coast, but experience indicates the "only way to resolve it is to create permanent protection," he said.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced in December plans to more than double the size of the Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones sanctuaries, extending their northern border from Bodega Bay more than 60 miles north to Point Arena in southern Mendocino County.
The expansion, which does not need legislative approval, affords coastal waters permanent protection from energy development, officials say.
The proposal got a warm reception last month at the first public meeting in Bodega Bay.
Officials said the "scientific justification" for the proposed expansion is that it would protect a biologically rich upwelling system that starts at Point Arena and sustains an abundance of fish, birds and mammals along the Sonoma Coast and down to the Farallon Islands outside San Francisco Bay.
Former Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, who retired this year, embraced the sanctuary expansion plan backed by the Obama administration, acknowledging she could not get it through the House and Senate.
"It's been a long time coming," said Binah, a Democratic National Committee member. But Binah said it was "kind of a slap in the face" that the proposal only goes to Point Arena.
Binah's opposition to oil drilling dates back to a 1988 public hearing in Fort Bragg where more than 2,000 people protested an Interior Department plan to open 1.1 million acres of the North Coast to oil and natural gas development.
Binah said it became known as "the day California said no" and made the state's offshore oil fight a national issue.
Four years later, then-Rep. Leon Panetta, R-Carmel Valley, got the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary authorized, covering 276 miles of the coast south of the Gulf of the Farallones sanctuary.
"We got nothing," Binah said.
Gjerde, whose supervisorial district covers the coast from Caspar to Humboldt County, said he was a Fort Bragg High School student in 1988 and covered the anti-oil protest for the school newspaper.
He said he will offer a resolution calling for the entire coast to be included in the sanctuaries at the Mendocino County Board of Supervisor's Feb. 26 meeting.
Tupper Hull, spokesman for the Western States Petroleum Association, said his group's members have expressed no interest in tapping North Coast oil deposits.
"I don't think there is much oil there," he said.
But Richard Charter, a veteran oil drilling opponent, said the industry has eyed oil deposits offshore from Bodega Bay, Sea Ranch, Point Arena, Fort Bragg and the Lost Coast in Humboldt County.
Those deposits are in a geologic formation called Monterey shale and would be tapped by the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing known as fracking, Charter said.
You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or guy. email@example.com.
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