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Deep Water Ports: Energy Demands Versus Environmental Safeguards

November 1973

Citation: ELR 10165

In his energy message of April 18, 1973, President Nixon endorsed the construction of deep water ports, capable of accommodating supertankers, as the answer to the nation's predicted need for sharply increased petroleum imports in the foreseeable future. Such ports would provide moorings outside U.S. territorial waters from which foreign oil could be piped ashore or offloaded into smaller tankers able to use existing harbors. The president cited a CEQ study indicating that the use of fewer, larger tankers at deep water ports connected to the shore by pipelines would present less danger of oil pollution than do the numerous small tankers that now crowd conventional ports. Asserting that oil imports will expand in any event, Mr. Nixon argued that if the U.S. does not authorize construction, these ports will be built instead in the Bahamas and Canada, with a loss to the U.S. of jobs and capital. Noting that states cannot now license deep port construction beyond the three-mile limit, the president proposed legislation giving the Interior Department authority to issue such licenses.

This presidential endorsement of the deep water port concept in conjunction with the announcement of the nation's first comprehensive energy policy stimulated a prompt response on Capitol Hill, where the question of deep port construction has been under discussion for several years without any concrete result. In the meantime, however, several coastal states have been taking actions on their own. Delaware's Coastal Zone Act of 19711 forbids construction of deep water ports off the state's shores, and Maine has prohibited the on-shore terminal facilities that a deep water port would require.2 In New Jersey, a similar ban was deleted from the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1973 before final passage.3 Washington, California and Texas, on the other hand, have shown a positive interest in such ports through referenda, staff studies, and official statements. Louisiana has gone so far as to appoint a task force composed primarily of oil men, bankers, and industrialists to promote financing and development of deep water ports in the state's territorial or contiguous waters. This group recommended that a deep port be located about three miles off the mouth of the Mississippi River and has drafted legislation, subsequently enacted by the legislature,4 setting up a state agency to oversee construction and operation of deep ports. A Florida firm has also announced plans for a deep port 30 miles from shore near the entrance to Tampa Bay.

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