State panel to decide fate of S.B. offshore drilling plan
- State panel to decide fate of S.B. offshore drilling plan
By Noaki Schwartz
The Associated Press
Thursday, January 29, 2009
LOS ANGELES — An agreement paving the way for the first oil drilling
off the California coast in nearly 40 years has run into unexpected
opposition that may sink it altogether today.
The plan, which could be worth billions, was announced last year by an
unusual alliance of environmentalists and a drilling company. But
supporters were blindsided by sudden opposition recently after it
sailed through local approval and reached the state level.
The proposal hinges on a commitment from key environmental groups to
lobby for expanded drilling off Santa Barbara if Plains Exploration &
Production Co. would help fund hybrid buses, set aside thousands of
acres of land and — most importantly — end all its local drilling by
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said attorney Linda Krop,
who negotiated on behalf of three lead environmental groups. “If
people really want to protect the coast from offshore oil and gas
development, this is the best opportunity to do that.”
Commission to vote today
State and federal lawmakers from California to Washington, D.C., are
now challenging the plan, saying it could invite more offshore
drilling along the California coast and undermine efforts to reinstate
a federal drilling moratorium that was lifted by the Bush
The three-member State Lands Commission has the power to scuttle the
deal today. Already the chairman, Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, has said
he’ll vote against it. The other two members — state controller John
Chiang and state finance director Michael Genest — have not disclosed
their intentions but Genest is leaning for it and Chiang against,
setting up the possibility the plan could die on a 2-1 vote.
Supporters, now including 25 environmental groups around the state,
had thought the landmark partnership and terms of the deal would be
enough to push it through the regulatory process.
Environmentalists OK plan
The commission’s staff has recommended rejection, saying there is no
guarantee that the company, known as PXP, will have to eventually shut
down operations. The staff’s finding prompted two major environmental
backers of the plan — the Sierra Club and the Planning and
Conservation League — to send a letter to the commission this week
saying their support was contingent on the terms being fully enforced.
The company had no comment ahead of the vote. Previously, it has
called the plan a win-win deal for oil exploration and the environment.
The vote is scheduled for the day after the 40th anniversary of a
massive oil spill off Santa Barbara that coated miles of beaches with
oil and killed dolphins, seals and thousands of birds.
The spill helped lead to the Clean Water Act and a moratorium on
offshore drilling, galvanizing the modern environmental movement.
If approved by the lands commission, the proposal would then go before
the California Coastal Commission, which regulates coastal development.
Opponents see today’s vote as critical. Garamendi believes “very, very
strongly” that if the board approves the plan, drilling proponents
will use the vote to push for more exploration in the West.
“I’m not going to go there,” he said. “I’m not going to allow that
argument to take place.”
Chiang has the same concerns but has yet to decide how he will vote,
spokesman Hallye Jordan said.
Genest will be represented at the meeting by his deputy, Tom Sheehy.
He sees the deal as a financial boon to the cash-strapped state —
perhaps $5 billion over the life of the project — and believes the
terms are specific to Santa Barbara so it won’t lead to drilling
Capps backs proposal
Rep. Lois Capps, a Democrat who represents Santa Barbara, supports the
deal led by three groups, the Environmental Defense Center, Get Oil
Out! and the Citizens Planning Association of Santa Barbara County.
She warned both sides not to rush.
“I think if any decision is made on Thursday it will be to kill the
deal,” she said, adding that the commission could require more
concessions from the company.
“Push them. See how far they’ll go,” Capps said.
Surfrider Foundation - Ventura Campaign Coordinator