A proposal that would allow the expansion of offshore oil development into state waters — something that has not happened since the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill — is once again being debated after being included in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s state budget.
The governor’s recently released revenue projections include $100 million in expected tax revenue from the proposed drilling, which would tap an oil field buried beneath the waters near Santa Maria. The proposal is unique, however, in that it would place a definite end date for oil production and is supported by several local environmental groups, including the staunchly anti-drilling organization Get Oil Out.
Plains Exploration and & Production Company struck a deal with GOO and other environmental groups back in 2008 which would grant it access to the oil field, known as the Tranquillon Ridge, in exchange for a guarantee that it would end drilling on all three of its platforms by 2022. The proposal, however, was rejected by the State Lands Commission in 2009.
David Landecker, executive director of the Environmental Defense Center, which represents GOO on the matter, said allowing this specific oil development to proceed could mark the beginning of the end for offshore oil production in California. If the proposal is not accepted, he said, advances in drilling technology could allow the practice to continue for decades.
“Because of new technology, you can take an old platform and drill in all kinds of new places,” Landecker said. “As things are right now, every single one of these oil platforms will be there for another generation.”
However, other environmental groups, such the Sierra Club and the Audubon California and several state legislators disagree.
State Assemblymember Pedro Nava, a well known opponent of oil development, said the drilling would set a dangerous precedent for new offshore projects.
“California has always been extremely strong in its opposition to any new leases for offshore oil drilling,” Nava said. “The approval of the PXP lease would be seen by supporters of offshore oil drilling in Congress as a green light to drill in federal waters.”
Though the plan is resisted by several environmental groups and lawmakers, state Dept. of Finance Deputy Director H.D. Palmer said the project would generate much needed revenue for the state.
“This represents a way for us to generate additional revenues for the state that wouldn’t be detrimental to the economy in the way a broad-based tax increase would,” Palmer said.
Despite the governor’s support for the project, the proposal still faces a difficult path forward if it is to be approved. It must gain the support of the State Lands Commission, which rejected the proposal 2-1 last year. However, former Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, who voted against the plan, will soon be replaced, most likely by Republican State Sen. Abel Maldonado of Santa Maria.
Maldonado has said he opposes offshore drilling plans, meaning the commission’s decision to prevent drilling will likely stand.
But Nava says Maldonado’s position could change.
“What he said was he had not yet seen a proposal that he would support,” Nava said. “He left himself open to be shown something a little different than what’s currently on the table.”