The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance last Tuesday, which requires oil companies to undergo a thorough evaluation before they start up their business.
The “Owner/Operator” Ordinance applies to both current and potential companies and mandates that the county complete a background check of oil companies to make sure they will be able to operate the facility in compliance with the permit and county codes.
Currently, there are nearly a dozen permit applications pending in the county, and the ordinance is predicted to reduce the amount of future applicants.
Third District Supervisor Gail Marshall said the ordinance was needed due to Santa Barbara’s recent influx of smaller businesses, which she called “second-generation companies.”
“We have always dealt with big companies like Exxon and Chevron, big multi-national companies that have the financial resources to cover anything that goes awry,” Marshall said. “Now those licenses are being passed on to second-generation companies who are not as big and whose names we have not necessarily heard before. We just want to be sure these companies have the financial stability to take care of any problems. We want to know their track records.”
“We wanted to make sure that the financial wherewithal, capabilities and historical safety records of these companies were scrutinized,” Marshall’s assistant Mark Chaconas said. “We want to make sure that the newer operators have the financial backing and skills to operate these facilities safely.”
Marshall said the ordinance was prompted by the county’s realization that it does not have as many oil reserves as it thought.
Currently, California has 27 offshore oil platforms, 21 of which are located in the Santa Barbara Channel. There are 36 approved but undeveloped federal leases offshore of Santa Barbara County, which could yield one billion barrels of crude oil and 900 million cubic feet of natural gas. The oil companies operating in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties supply 63 percent of the oil and 85 percent of the natural gas for California.
The county’s standards of operation have not changed; they have just been codified, Marshall said.
“We’ve always had high standards, but when the second-generation companies started coming in, we reevaluated those standards and set them down in the ordinance,” she said.
. Jenna Garman of the Environmental Defense Center said the EDC is in favor of the ordinance.
“We’re supportive of the ordinance because it gives the county more control over these companies and allows for better enforcement and regulation,” Garman said. “In the past, there hasn’t been enough clarity of standards, and the ordinance codifies the regulations and makes them more official.”