Offshore drilling: County commissioners leave Ocean Shores hanging

Citing a lack of authority on the matter, the Grays Harbor County commissioners decided not to consider a resolution that would have opposed offshore oil drilling.

On Jan. 4, the Trump Administration moved to expand offshore oil drilling, including in waters off the Washington Coast. About a month later, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said he would sue if Washington is not removed from the expanded offshore oil drilling list.

Locally, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell met with fishermen and small business owners in Westport on Feb. 3. Cantwell led a bipartisan group of 16 lawmakers from the Pacific Northwest to call on Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to remove the Washington/Oregon planning area from the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2019-2014.

Opponents to offshore drilling cite potential impacts to the fishing, shellfish and tourism industries. A recent Ocean Shores resolution stated as much, along with other examples of detrimental consequences from offshore drilling and exploration.

County commissioners Randy Ross and Vickie Raines echoed those concerns on Monday, Feb. 12. Both said they are opposed to offshore drilling.

“Unless someone can guarantee that there isn’t going to be any sort of issue, or responsibility or accountability from the federal government. I remember not too long ago when we had volunteers out at Ocean Shores and our area beaches for birds that were coated with oil and a variety of things that were damaged and wildlife that was killed,” Raines said.

Raines also noted the damage done by the BP oil spill in 2010 that impacted the Gulf of Mexico when a deepwater oil platform exploded. Some 210 million gallons of oil was spilled. Extensive impacts were felt in both the tourism and fishing industries in the Gulf of Mexico. Tar balls, oil sheen trails and affected grass and sand were evident throughout the coast. Impacts were notable for years after. A major motion picture about the explosion was made not long after the spill.

Raines noted her concerns about the impacts offshore drilling would have on tourism.

Ross said he also worries about the fishing industry.

“Besides tourism, it would be harmful to our fishing industry if we had some sort of accident from a drilling operation, especially,” Ross said.

Wesport was 10th nationwide in seafood landings in 2016 with 108 million pounds of crab, salmon, hake and other seafood landed. That seafood was valued at $59 million. More than 200 commercial vessels unload at Westport, and the industry supports thousands of jobs.

In an article from The Times-Picayune of Louisiana published in 2016 it was noted that the BP oil spill cost the commercial fishing industry some $94.7 million to $1.6 billion, and 740 to 9,315 jobs in the first eight months. That article cited a study from the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

Commissioner Wes Cormier said he didn’t have enough information to have an opinion on offshore drilling.

“I don’t know much about offshore drilling,” Cormier said. “I don’t know if we’d see it, how far off coast it would be — I just don’t know enough about that issue to make a comment one way or the other.”

Cormier also noted that he didn’t believe the county board of commissioners should sign resolutions regarding issues they have no authority over. The federal government regulates offshore drilling, not county governments — or cities for that matter.

“I was just staying consistent. When (former county commissioner Frank Gordon) brought forth the crude-by-rail resolution I had said, ‘I don’t think this is a county issue — what we could do as a board we do for county business, not state business,’” Cormier said. “I would have voted against (the Ocean Shores resolution) had it been put on our agenda.”

Gordon had explained in the past that commissioners, as elected officials, have a louder voice than the average citizen, and their collective opposition can make a bigger statement to state and federal lawmakers. Cormier did not disagree with that sentiment on Feb. 12.

“If he (as a commissioner) wants to do that individually, he can do so,” Cormier said. “But when we start looking at things like gun control, abortion, pro-life — just a gamut of political issues that are usually dealt with at a federal level — we could stay busy with those issues, but we’re here to conduct county business. I would support an individual commissioner on their own wanting to advocate for things they find are important, and use their political will to do so.”

 

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