A proposed oil-drilling project that would have been the first to allow drilling in state waters in over 30 years was left stagnant in the water on Tuesday, Sept.24 when the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors voted against it.
After a 3-2 vote on Tuesday, the board of supervisors denied Nuevo Energy Co.’s application for the proposed Tranquillon Ridge project. The project would have added 22 to 30 new wells off the already existing Platform Irene, and would have generated an estimated 200 million barrels of oil and 40 billion cubic feet of gas. Under their proposal, Nuevo would be drilling in state waters rather than in the federal areas they are currently restricted to.
Nuevo spokesman Jim Bray said he was displeased with the county’s decision.
“Obviously we were very disappointed because we think this is a good project that has a lot of benefits for the county,” he said. “We’ve been working on this for five years and spent almost $500,000 on the [Environmental Impact Report].”
According to Gail Marshall, 3rd District Supervisor and board of supervisors chair, Nuevo gave the board no choice but to deny the proposed project.
“Oil production is important and has a prominent presence in our county. However, Nuevo refused to give the county assurances that this new project would include the same safety standards that other oil and gas projects have agreed to and this fact clearly outweighed the purported benefits of their proposal,” she said. “The revenue to the county through oil royalties and property taxes are traditionally unpredictable and certainly not reason enough to approve this project.”
Just days before the board’s decision was made, a court resolved the issue of whether or not the county even had jurisdiction over the proposed drilling area. Typically, the U.S. Department of Transportation has authority over interstate pipelines such as Platform Irene. However, when Unicol, the prior owner of Platform Irene, obtained permits from the county, it waived a condition, giving the county jurisdiction over the area.
“Basically, the judge ruled against Nuevo, which was, of course, another disappointment,” Bray said. “The judge said that by Nuevo accepting the permit from the previous owners of the platform, the county on that permit had pre-empted jurisdiction, even though a county usually doesn’t have jurisdiction over federal waters.”
Marshall said the court decision was a 50-50 victory.
“The judge made a strong decision regarding the existing platform, basically saying that Nuevo must comply with all of the county’s existing standards,” she said. “As far as Tranquillon Ridge goes, the county had no guarantee within the court ruling that Nuevo would have to abide by any of the heightened safety measures.”