The California State Lands Commission shot down a historic offshore oil lease Thursday despite widespread support for the proposal from community members and environmental groups.
The proposal – known as the Tranquillon Ridge Project – would have simultaneously been the first offshore oil lease granted in California in over 40 years while also being the first agreement ever by an oil company to shut down production by a given date. While Santa Barbara is known for its stringent opposition to offshore oil drilling, the proposal was written in coordination with local environmental groups, who claimed the deal would ultimately shorten the life of oil production off the California coast.
Lt. Governor John Garamendi, the commission’s chairman, said during the hearing that he was concerned with the message that would be sent if the lease was approved.
“It [would] be the first time in 40 years that the State Lands Commission … has issued a new drilling lease for oil production in the state lands off the California coast,” Garamendi, who ultimately voted against the lease, said. “That is a message that will be heard across America. And those who call for ‘drill, baby, drill,’ will hear this message very, very clearly, and they will use this as an argument with Congress, and with the president to not reinstate the [federal] moratoriums that have expired.”
The lease would have allowed Plains Exploration and Production Co., or PXP, to tap into a vast oil field buried beneath the ocean near Santa Maria. While the platform from which the drilling would have occurred lies in federal waters, the Tranquillon Ridge is less than three miles offshore and is thus under California’s jurisdiction. In exchange for access to the oil field, PXP would have shut down all four of its platforms by 2022 and donated nearly 4,000 acres to the public trust.
“We are very disappointed,” Linda Krop, lead counsel for the Environmental Defense Center, said. “We felt we had achieved some significant benefits for the California coast. Unfortunately, the commission could not look past that this was an oil project.”
Approximately 300 people attended the hearing, a vast majority of which expressed support for the proposal. The turnout was greater than expected, and even drew comment from the commissioners, who noted they had never seen such large crowds before.
Following the decision, local congresswoman Lois Capps expressed her displeasure with the commission’s actions.
“I am disappointed by the State Lands Commission’s decision to reject the agreement hammered out by Environmental Defense Center (EDC), Get Oil Out! (GOO!), and the Citizens Planning Association of Santa Barbara,” Capps said in a press release. “As the federal representative for the area, and as an ardent opponent of offshore oil and gas development, I have long sought to prevent new development from occurring off our coast and to end production that currently exists. That’s why I support the proposal.”
Despite her disappointment, Krop – whose organization had previously fought against allowing development of the Tranquillon Ridge – admitted to there being a silver lining in the decision.
“The good thing, though, is that… fundamentally, the commissioners have shown they’re going to vote no on any oil project in California,” she said.