Facing a widening budget deficit in the midst of a deepening
recession, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has proposed
tapping into a rich source of oil and natural gas near Santa Barbara to
help alleviate the Golden State’s growing economic woes.
an opponent of offshore drilling, Schwarzenegger now supports a plan
that would allow Texas-based Plains Exploration & Production Co. to
bore as many as 30 wells from existing oil platforms near Vandenberg
Air Force Base.
The platforms are located in
federal-government-controlled waters, and the company would use slant
drilling to access the oil and gas in state waters.
proposal, Plains would speed up royalty payments to the revenue-starved
state, providing $100 million a year over the next 14 years, and would
then decommission the wells. To sweeten the pot for environmental
groups, the company would donate for public use 4,000 acres of land it
Schwarzenegger and other supporters of the plan believe the
offshore drilling will result in $1.8 billion in revenues for the state
January, California’s State Land Commission rejected, by a 2 to 1 vote,
the governor’s proposal to drill in the area, known as the Tranquillion
Ridge. Undaunted, Schwarzenegger now wants to bypass the Lands
Commission and take the matter directly to the state legislature in
Even if the legislature agrees, however, the proposal
will need the approval of the state’s Department of Finance, the
California Coastal Commission, and the federal Minerals Management
political landscape is as complicated as the bureaucratic hurdles are
high. Many environmentalists, traditionally opposed to all offshore
drilling, actually support the plan. They see it as setting a definite
ending date, after which no drilling will take place in the waters off
Santa Barbara County.
At the same time, however, they are uncomfortable with Schwarzenegger’s end-run around the Lands Commission.
in an awkward position of having a means to an end that is very
problematic for us,” said John Abraham Powell, president of Get Oil
Out! according to a June 7 story in the San Francisco Chronicle. “We
think it’s a great project. But we are also in strong support of the
use of independent commissions.”
Citizens Support Production
Barbara has been a flashpoint in the debate over offshore drilling
since a 1969 oil spill off the picturesque city’s coast. That event is
credited with helping give rise to the environmental movement—the first
Earth Day was celebrated the following year.
By 2008, however,
local attitudes toward offshore drilling had changed in response to
higher gasoline prices and the state’s deteriorating economy. A 2008
poll showed Santa Barbara County residents, by a 63 to 29 percent
margin, support more offshore oil production in California.
Natural Oil Pollution
of whether the Schwarzenegger proposal or some variation of it is
adopted, the Santa Barbara Basin will continue to be polluted by oil
and gas—by natural means. As in the Gulf of Mexico, natural hydrocarbon
seepage in the Santa Barbara Basin exceeds the cumulative environmental
impact of all oil and natural gas drilling in the region.
before the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee in February, Bruce
Allen, cofounder of the pro-drilling group SOS California, pointed out:
“Oil and gas seeps off the California coast are the second most active
in the world, seeping 70,000 barrels of oil into coastal waters and 3
billion cubic feet of methane into the air every year.
annual oil seepage volume equals the entire 1969 oil spill and equals
the Exxon Valdez oil spill amount every four years,” Allen noted.
“Local beaches are washed in oil seepage from state and OCS [Outer
Continental Shelf] waters for 100 miles of Central California
coastline. These seeps pollute the ocean and beaches, sicken surfers,
and are a significant source of air pollution in Santa Barbara County.”
Allen believes drilling for oil and gas off California’s coast will actually reduce pollution.
the last 40 years,” Allen told the committee, “there have been only 872
barrels of oil spilled offshore [in] California due to offshore
production, with no lasting long-term environmental impact compared to
the 2 million barrels of oil seepage into the same coastal waters.”