Californians Still Not Ready for New Offshore Oil

  • Published on July 26th, 2009

offshore oil platform

California State assembly rejects offshore oil, budget still passes


Shortly after winning approval from the California State Senate, a controversial deal that would have allowed the first new offshore oil leases in California state waters in forty years, was rejected by the California State Assembly by a vote of 43-30.

The deal would have revived a lease that had been rejected by the State Lands Commission earlier this year and allow a single oil company, Plains Exploration and Production Company, to bypass the existing public environmental review process and gain access to oil reserves off of the Santa Barbara coast — the site of a massive spill in 1969 that poured 80,000 barrels of crude into the Pacific and onto Southern California beaches, effectively halting the issuing of any new offshore leases in state waters.

Despite improvements in offshore drilling technology, small spills are still fairly routine. In 2007, the oil industry spilled 2,256 barrels of oil, fuels and chemicals, into the oceans off America’s coasts. Even though natural oil seepage rates are much higher, an estimated 1,700 barrels per day off the coast of North America, Californians are still leery of another Santa Barbara.

“The Governor made Santa Barbara a target for new oil drilling. I am proud that we rejected this insidious proposal,” said Assembleymember Pedro Nava of California’s 35th district (Santa Barbara).

“The plan would have unraveled critical environmental protections, put the coast at risk, and set a terrible precedent while the federal government is considering their 5 year drilling plan for the outer continental shelf,” added Nava.

Deal would have used budged process to circumvent existing process

The compromise lease deal that was rejected last January (and on the table again last week) satisfied some groups on both sides of the debate at the time because it would have used directional drilling technology from existing federal platforms for a limited amount of time. As part of the agreement, all operations would have ceased on or before December 31, 2022. But the State Lands Commission voted 2-1 that there was no way to enforce the proposed shuttering date, because leases have historically been open-ended.

Speaking on the Assembly floor, Nava said, “The Governor’s proposal implies that when times are tough we ignore long established public policy, set aside our values, and if the state needs money it is acceptable to put our environment at risk.” He continued, “I strongly oppose this approach to development of environmental policy.”

And in a letter sent to Gov. Schwarzenegger late last week, the proposed deal was opposed by 53 environmental groups who were critical of the use of the budget process to sneak-in new oil leases.

According to the bill’s supporters, including Gov. Schwarzenegger, the proposed project off Santa Barbara would have raised about $100 million annually for 15 years in oil royalty payments to the state. But the revenue gained from the new leases would only have been a drop in the bucket for the state’s $26 billion deficit.

Despite the budget deal brokered over the weekend and the rejection of the proposed leases, unless lawmakers address the systemic drivers of the state’s economic malaise, don’t be surprised to see the state considering offshore oil again next year around this time

Image © Maunger |
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About the Author

is the founder of ecopolitology and the executive editor at LiveOAK Media, a media network about the politics of energy and the environment, green business, cleantech, and green living. When not reading, writing, thinking or talking about environmental politics with anyone who will listen, Tim spends his time skiing in Colorado's high country, hiking with his dog, and getting dirty in his vegetable garden.
  • Harrier

    California has more desert and sunlight year around than any place in the US. Solar energy in the Mojave desert, just a small portion of it, could power the nation if a grid was built. You can either import oil and pollute the air and increase greenhouse gasses. Or get off your butt and fight the oil industry and bite the bullet. 95% of the crude in the Alaskan pipeline goes overseas and never reaches a US car. So if you want more oil, just use the oil from the pipeline. This is what California knows. The bottleneck and reason why oil prices are high is because oil companies have gotten together and shut down 138 refineries. It doesn't matter how much oil you produce because there is not enough capacity to refine it. There is nothing complex in understanding the oil industry