On Monday, the bill AB 16, authored by Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson, passed with an eight-to-four vote by the Assembly Natural Resources Committee.

If passed through the legislature, AB 16 could become law by January 2004. The bill would require oil companies to transport oil obtained offshore in California waters from new or expanded drilling leases via pipeline instead of by barge or tanker. It would not affect existing drilling leases, just new or expanded leases.

Janice Rocco, Jackson’s spokeswoman, said Jackson has introduced similar bills in the past; however, none have passed. Rocco also said the bill comes at a pressing time because President George W. Bush is currently in court trying to open up the possibility of new offshore drilling of the 36 undeveloped leases off the California coast.

“If [President Bush] succeeds, any of those 36 leases could be developed without any input from California,” she said. “If that happens, AB 16 can ensure some degree of safety.”

Jackson has also reinitiated this requirement in response to the November 2002 oil spill in which a tanker sank off the coast of Spain and caused massive damage to the surrounding sea and wildlife and destroyed the $330 million fishing industry.

“Transporting oil by tankers is very dangerous,” Rocco said. “By transporting the oil through pipelines, oil companies can shut off the pipelines if a leak or any other problem occurs.”

Venoco Vice President Mike Edwards, whose company operates the barge-serviced Platform Holly, said his chief concern with AB 16 is its potential to affect current leases.

“Although [the bill] is targeted to new operations among the 36 leases, we’re concerned it would affect existing operations,” he said.

Edwards also said Venoco’s involvement in AB 16’s progress would help ensure the bill would not oppose existing leases.

Rocco said such an impact would not be possible, however.

“The bill specifically says that it could not affect existing operations,” she said.

Other California representatives have fought against the development of the 36 leases. In December 2002, Congresswoman Lois Capps and Sen. Barbara Boxer authored a letter to President Bush asking him to discontinue his pursuit of the leases. This letter was in response to a ruling in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld a lower court’s ruling against developing the leases. The Appeals ruling also stated that California has the right to review and reject any federal plans to drill off the coast.

“This measure is necessary to protect California’s coast from the potential of a devastating oil spill that could destroy out local economy,” Jackson said in a press release. “Anyone familiar with the recent oil spill off the coast of Spain should want to do everything possible to avoid such a disaster off the coast of California.”