The giant oil slick that’s spreading over the Gulf of Mexico is clear proof that offshore oil platforms don’t belong in the Gulf of Maine and surrounding waters, say Maine’s congressional representatives and environmental groups.

“We don’t want to see what is happening in the Gulf of Mexico ever happen in the Gulf of Maine,” said U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, in a written statement Friday. “An oil spill like that one here in Maine would be devastating to the fishing economy and our environment.”

The idea of drilling for oil in or around the Gulf of Maine has stirred controversy for decades.

Federal officials have estimated that more than 700 million barrels of oil could lie beneath Georges Bank, a fertile fishing ground about 200 miles southeast of Portland. Test wells drilled more than 30 years ago came up dry, however, and Maine’s state geologist testified in Congress last year that oil and gas reserves off the state’s coast would be modest and barely worth the effort to recover.

A federal moratorium on drilling along much of the East and West coasts, including off New England, expired in 2008. President Obama recently issued an order opening up some areas off the mid-Atlantic coast to oil exploration, but excluded the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank.

Obama said Friday that he wants to know the cause of the accident, and how to prevent similar spills, before new drilling leases are issued.

Pingree wants even more protection for the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank, and has co-sponsored legislation to ban drilling there indefinitely.

She said Friday that the environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico makes it clear that the focus should instead be on developing renewable energy sources such as wind and tidal power.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, also supports the goal of developing alternative energy in the Gulf of Maine, not drilling for oil.

“I have always strongly opposed drilling in Georges Bank because of the potential impact on New England’s vital fishing industries,” she said in a written statement. “In addition, I have always pushed for a buffer zone along the coast, requiring drilling far offshore, which would help protect the coast in case of a spill.”

U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said drilling should happen off the Maine coast only if the state wants it to happen.

“The calamity (in the Gulf of Mexico) reinforces the fact that conventional offshore energy development must be done with extreme caution,” Snowe said in a written statement. “Clearly, offshore drilling presents risks to our coastal economy, and that is why I strongly believe that the future of the Gulf of Maine must remain in the hands of Mainers.”

Sean Mahoney, an attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation, a nonprofit environmental group that opposes offshore drilling, said there was concern that Canada would explore for oil in that country’s portion of Georges Bank. But, he said, the disaster off Louisiana could slow down drilling plans in Canada and the United States.

“Drilling for oil in the ocean thousands of feet below the surface doesn’t make any sense, and the tragedy that is unfolding is a perfect example of that,” he said. “There are better ways to address our need for energy independence.”

 

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

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