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Sierra Club Conservation Policies

Offshore Oil and Gas

The nation's tidelands and Outer Continental Shelf are being exploited with the same unbridled singleness of purpose that left much of America's landscape ravaged for the last century. Oil developments are being pursued without sufficient safeguards against accident and spillage, without sufficient regard for effects on onshore scenic and social values, and without zoning to protect sensitive and unique areas of marine ecology from incompatible development. Disasters such as the runaway oil well in the Santa Barbara Channel are the result of this one-sided policy.

The Sierra Club calls upon all responsible units of government to exercise their authority to treat the tidelands and Outer Continental Shelf and waters over it with full regard to the sensitive ecology it supports. Therefore, the Club urges enactment of state and federal legislation to survey the tidelands and Outer Continental Shelf to identify not only mineral values and areas of drilling risk but also biological, scenic, and social values that would be adversely affected by oil development, with a view to zoning the shelf for various combinations of uses, including the establishment of marine sanctuaries in the Santa Barbara Channel and elsewhere.

The Club urges enactment of strong state and federal controls to prevent pollution in tidelands, the Outer Continental Shelf and territorial water, including provisions regulating methods of spillage cleanup and establishing liability. Chemical preparations should not be used for control of cleanup purposes until state and federal agencies, after thorough and long-term tests, can certify that such chemicals will not endanger marine ecology.

The Club urges that state and federal leasing programs be thoroughly reviewed to determine both the adequacy of protective restrictions and to prevent leasing in sensitive areas.

Adopted by the Board of Directors, February 8-9, 1969

The Sierra Club opposes development and protection of the oil resources of the Outer Continental Shelf and any inland areas from which oil resources cannot be extracted and transported to market without danger of substantial environmental damage resulting.

Adopted by the Board of Directors, September 19-20, 1970

The Sierra Club believes that no offshore petroleum exploration should occur unless and until the following conditions are met:

  1. There are adequate mechanisms to control the impacts of onshore support facilities and associated secondary development. Specifically, the Sierra Club calls for amendments to strengthen the Coastal Zone Management Act with immediate full funding and implementation of the federal Coastal Zone Management System. Development in adjacent inland areas should conform to state land-use plans, which must be in effect prior to offshore development. There should be mechanisms to consider energy policy and the siting of onshore facilities on a regional, interstate basis in areas where several states are adjacent to potential offshore petroleum-producing areas.
  2. The baseline biological, geological and environmental data needed to evaluate the future impacts of petroleum development in a prospective area have been obtained.
  3. There is adequate funding for studies on the effects of large oil spills and on the cumulative effect of oil pollution on the marine environment.
  4. There are readily available, in any area subject to oil spills, adequate containment and oil recovery systems. There is an urgent need for substantial improvements in this capability, and the Club strongly supports expanded research and development in this areas.
  5. A comprehensive environmental impact statement under the National Environmental Policy Act has been prepared.

Lease sales should be prohibited in areas that possess the following characteristics:

  1. High seismic activity, or
  2. Fragile or unstable geological structures, or
  3. Proximity to particularly diverse or productive marine ecosystems, or
  4. Proximity to federal or state marine sanctuaries or areas worthy of inclusion in such systems, or
  5. Where visual impact of offshore structures would significantly reduce aesthetic values, or
  6. Where, by reason of difficult oil-spill containment problems, busy shipping traffic, very deep water, or other factors, the risks are unusually high.

Potential petroleum deposits that lie in such prohibited areas should be held in reserve. In order to permit the public to assess the potential social and environmental costs of petroleum development versus the total value to be realized from petroleum development, there should be no more than a gradual exploitation of offshore oil.

Pre-lease sale exploration for offshore oil prior to development leasing should only be conducted by the government itself, by quasi-governmental corporations, or through competitive bidding on contracts for that purpose. Subsequent to his exploration, the responsible federal agencies should perform a benefit/cost analysis of the petroleum prospect to determine if leasing is in the public interest. The cost of this program should be recovered through a bidding qualification fee and lease-sale bids.

Petroleum exploration and production that does take place:

  1. Must be conducted in accordance with the strictest controls possible under current technology. Specifically we call for: a. Regulations to ensure utilization of "highest state of the art" equipment and technology in all phases of exploration, development and production; b. Specific stipulations prohibiting ocean dumping of any untreated sewage, oily wastes, drilling chemicals, contaminated formation fluids and any non-inert drilling or production byproducts; c. Failure-mode analysis and systems-analysis techniques to assure adequate margins of environmental safety; and d. Strict regulations eliminating all natural gas flaring, with the exception of minimal safety flares.
  2. Must have ongoing environmental monitoring programs in active lease areas designed to assess incremental impacts of petroleum development.
  3. Must be subject to close surveillance by an adequately staffed and equipped enforcement agency. We call for: a. A significant increase in the technical capabilities of the federal agency responsible for offshore monitoring and surveillance. This should include consideration of transferring responsibility from the U.S. Geological Survey to the Environmental Protection Agency; b. Expansion of funding to enable the regulatory agency effectively to implement monitoring and environmental safety programs, maintain comprehensive records and continually upgrade staff qualifications and capabilities.
  4. Must be subject to automatic, heavy fines for all oil spills regardless of cause, and
  5. Must be subject to drilling regulations, any willful violation of which must result in permanent forfeiture of the lease on which the offense occurs. The Sierra Club is opposed to leasing of lands beyond 200 meters depth until international agreements on ownership of sea floor resources have been reach.

Adopted by the Board of Directors, January 12-13, 1974

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