In 1978, something called the Governor's Task Force on Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Development published a 54-page, 8 1/2" x 9" pamphlet entitled Oregon and offshore oil
. Five years ago, I excavated a three-dollar copy from an Oregon coast thrift store and read it. I unearthed it a week ago because sometimes I perversely enjoy reading official insanity produced by a government agency.
Who knows what Oregon and offshore oil's press run was or how it was distributed? Its initial release came 117 years after the first commercial oil well, five years after the Arab oil embargo and shocking gas lines, and 25 years before the American invasion of Iraq, which instantly dropped the price of a barrel of oil.
The top half of the pamphlet's cover is Texas tea black. The bottom half is Douglas fir green. A lowercase, cream-colored oregon in a fat, round '70s-style font separates the black from the green. The black at the top appears ready to spill over the green at the bottom. The word oregon dams the black away from the green. There is a black line drawing of an offshore oil platform inside the second o of oregon. Below the g and surrounded by green sits the black-colored phrase, "and offshore oil."
Connie Morehouse designed the cover, and I count it a masterpiece on every subconscious, subversive propaganda and graphic design level. How it passed muster from her pro-oil superiors is a miracle. Maybe she was one of those Americans who actually listened to President Jimmy Carter when he asked Americans to turn down their thermostats and wear sweaters. Carter also created the Department of Energy and pushed for the research and development of alternative fuels. He lasted one term.
"...Oregon's role in the unfolding energy drama may soon change," reads Oregon and offshore oil on page three. The next 51 pages describe how this might happen the unique Oregon way, since federal law ceded control of submerged lands up to three miles from shore to individual states. The pamphlet addresses potential environmental problems and reassures that they won't happen — can't happen. It includes an economic multiplier model. It has a photograph of Governor Bob Straub in a pinstripe suit visiting what appears to be an offshore oil platform. It also contains a glossary of oil production terms. Had the plan unfolded, it would have mutated the Oregon coast into a coastal industrial landscape of almost inconceivable soulless proportions. Well, perhaps not so inconceivable. Visit Louisiana's share of the Gulf of Mexico for reference.
According to the pamphlet, exploratory drilling off Oregon occurred at seven sites in 1964 and 1965. Initial results were not promising but also not dissuading. Thus, 14 years later the state published Oregon and offshore oil with encouraging sentences like, "The thick sediments located off the Columbia River's mouth and near Newport and Coos Bay may be likely sites." Presumably Oregon officials released it to soften potential resistance, which figured to be stiff since it was the tail end of Oregon's great run as the national model for implementing aggressive conservation measures. The pamphlet's timing, however, was odd.
In 1977, a year before Oregon and offshore oil's publication, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) ranked the Oregon/Washington continental shelf lowest "among all the areas in terms of its resource potential and desirability for leasing." Consequently, the region was dropped from a schedule prioritizing offshore drilling sites.
Governor Straub asked the BLM to reconsider. He was the same Bob Straub who 10 years earlier, as State Treasurer, had led the successful fight to stop the relocation of a section of Highway 101 down Nestucca Spit. When the pamphlet came out, BLM had apparently not reversed the ranking and the prospect of several drilling platforms in the Columbia River estuary seemed remote. Yet you wouldn't gather that from reading Oregon and offshore oil. It made oil production feel like a done deal, complete with backing by the state's top elected leader who had unassailable credentials when it came to protecting the environment.
As we all know, drilling for oil off the Oregon coast didn't happen. I don't really know why. Today I can't seem to find anyone who remembers anything about the issue. Whatever the reason, it was a victory for the Oregon coast. Oregon's drilling scheme died in 1981 and seemed buried for all time when Congress banned drilling for oil and gas in offshore waters.
Then came a series of calamitous events — 9/11, two Middle East wars, $4 a gallon for gas, Sarah Palin — and Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama pushed for renewed exploration off Alaska, both coasts, and the Gulf of Mexico.
Then came the recent BP spill, the largest one in American history. You've seen the horrible images. More are coming. Recently, I've thought about them when I walk Oregon's relatively pristine beaches. I also think this: Do we ever learn anything from our history in this country?