With the specter of the Gulf Coast oil spill looming over him, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger abruptly withdrew his support Monday for a proposed expansion of oil drilling off Santa Barbara’s coast.
The Tranquillon Ridge proposal, which Schwarzenegger publically endorsed in January, would allow Texas-based Plains Exploration & Production Company — known as PXP — access to rich oil deposits buried beneath state waters in exchange for their agreement to shut down all drilling activity by 2024. The massive oil slick forming in the Gulf of Mexico, however, has weighed heavily on the governor and on Monday he explained that the expected $100 million in annual oil revenue was not worth the risk to the environment.
[media-credit name=”Daily Nexus File Photo” align=”alignleft” width=”250″][/media-credit]“I think that, first of all, it’s clear that we have to make up that $100 million a year that we would make from that,” Schwarzenegger said. “But if I have a choice between the $100 million and what I see in the Gulf of Mexico, I’d rather just figure out how to make up for that $100 million.”
Not since a similar spill off the coast of Summerland coated miles of Santa Barbara’s famed beaches in oil over 40 years ago has the state granted a new oil lease. The Tranquillon Ridge proposal, however, is unique in that the drilling would occur from an already existing platform located in federally leased waters.
The agreement, which if approved would be the first time an oil company had ever agreed to an end date for drilling, has gained the support of several environmental groups, including the Environmental Defense Center, which brokered the deal, and Get Oil Out!
David Landecker, executive director of the EDC, said he was upset with the governor’s decision to withdraw support for the agreement, which he said would ultimately reduce the risk of a spill.
“As long as you have oil platforms out there, you have a risk of an oil spill,” Landecker said. “By removing these, we get rid of the continuing long-term drilling of these wells.”
Yet without the governor’s support, getting the proposal approved will be very difficult. The EDC and PXP submitted a largely similar proposal last year, but it was shot down by the State Lands Commission, which has to approve any new leases. Schwarzenegger’s inclusion of oil revenues in his proposed budget had renewed the possibility of getting approved, but the massive spill in the Gulf has seemingly halted the momentum.
Though the EDC criticized the governor’s decision, Schwarzenegger’s withdrawal of support for new drilling was welcomed by Santa Barbara Assemblyman Pedro Nava, who strongly opposed the plan to allow PXP to open new wells.
“I was very pleased that he had a change of heart,” Nava said. “The spill on the Gulf Coast 50 miles off the coastline took a week and a half to reach the beaches. A spill from PXP operations would reach our shores in hours.”