AUGUSTA — A legislative committee Friday endorsed a bill that aims to send a message to federal officials by prohibiting exploration or drilling for oil and gas in Maine’s state-owned waters.

Members of the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee voted 7-4 to support a ban on “any oil and natural gas exploration, development or production in, on or under the waters of the state.” The state’s jurisdiction extends only three miles from shore, but supporters say the bill, L.D. 955, also would prohibit transportation of oil and gas through state waters to onshore facilities.

Committee members supporting the bill stressed Friday that they do not want that language to interfere with importation of heating oil, natural gas or other petroleum products to existing facilities in Maine, such as the South Portland oil terminal. As a result, they directed the committee’s legislative analyst to draft additional language – subject to final approval – ensuring existing facilities are not affected.

“I think we need to be careful and clarify that that’s not the intent of this bill,” said Sen. Robert Foley, R-Wells. “I’m a co-sponsor of it, and that was not the intent. The intent was simply offshore drilling.”

Several other states in New England and the Mid-Atlantic have adopted or are debating similar prohibitions in response to the Trump administration’s stated intent to dramatically expand offshore oil and gas development.

The U.S. Department of the Interior, which administers oil and gas leases in federal waters, is finalizing a five-year energy plan that, as originally proposed in early 2018, would reopen the North Atlantic and 90 percent of the nation’s Outer Continental Shelf to fossil fuel exploration.


Governors, legislators and citizens all along the Eastern Seaboard have objected to the plan. All four members of Maine’s congressional delegation oppose fossil fuel exploration off Maine’s coast. And Gov. Janet Mills withdrew Maine from a coalition of governors that supported expanded offshore oil and gas drilling.

It remains unclear, however, whether the Trump administration’s final plan will lift the decades-long ban on oil and gas exploration in the North Atlantic.

Fishermen, environmentalists and representatives of Maine’s tourism industry testified in support of the bill  to prohibit oil and gas drilling in state waters.

But committee members heard that the Gulf of Maine is “devoid” of the conditions needed to create oil and gas reserves because the bedrock has been “overcooked” by geological events.

“The real potential — and it’s small — is at Georges Bank,” the director of the Maine Geological Survey, Robert Marvinney, told committee members last week. “Between here and there, there really is none.”

Several lawmakers cited that testimony Friday in explaining their opposition to a bill they said was primarily symbolic.


“I see this as a solution to a problem that does not exist,” said Rep. Thomas Skolfield, R-Weld. “I just feel it’s unnecessary to ban something that is never, ever going to happen.”

But others said Maine’s coastal economy – and particularly the multi-billion dollar fishing and tourism industries – are too important to allow activities that could lead to damaging oil spills or other pollution.

“We cannot risk it by allowing oil and natural gas drilling off our precious coast,” said Rep. Daniel Hobbs, D-Wells.

After final language review, the bill will go to the full House and Senate for debate.



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