A bill by state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, to ban offshore oil drilling from an area of state waters in the Santa Barbara Channel known as Tranquillon Ridge passed out of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee on Thursday.
The vote was 6-2. The area is designated as a Marine Protected Area because of its sensitive marine ecosystem.
The bill now heads to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
In 1994, declaring that “offshore oil and gas production in certain areas of state waters poses an unacceptably high risk of damage and disruption to the marine environment of the state,” the California Legislature banned any new offshore oil and gas leases when it passed the California Coastal Sanctuary Act. But a loophole in state law left Tranquillon Ridge, which extends into state and federal waters, with reserves that are currently being tapped in federal waters from Platform Irene, uniquely vulnerable to offshore drilling.
Senate Bill 1096 repeals this loophole, found in Public Resources Code 6244.
“In Santa Barbara, our beautiful coastline helps drive our local economy, creating 25,000 tourism jobs and generating $4 million a day in visitor spending, “ said Jackson. “Even the slightest chance of an oil spill in a Marine Protected Area far outweighs any potential benefit to the state. This bill will close the book on the possibility of offshore drilling in these state waters and help ensure that our precious coastline remains protected forever.”
Over the years, oil companies have made numerous attempts to tap into Tranquillon Ridge’s offshore reserves from state waters. Since 2003, an oil development proposal has been pursued by Sunset and Exxon to drill into Tranquillon Ridge reserves from an onshore location at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
Slant drilling from onshore into offshore waters raises significant concerns about possible oil spills, impacts on marine life, air and water pollution, and contributions to global climate change.
"We are thrilled to sponsor this bill, which would protect one of the most environmentally rich areas on the California coast," said Linda Krop, chief counsel of the Environmental Defense Center, a nonprofit environmental law firm headquartered in Santa Barbara County. "This region is recognized as one of five important ecological regions on the planet. For this reason, the state has designated this area as a Marine Protected Area, which means that it warrants the highest possible level of protection."
“If a project like the original T-ridge, which contained significant environmental benefits, was rejected by the state, then our community should vehemently oppose an oil project that has even worse environmental impacts and no benefits,” said Assemblymember Das Williams, D-Carpinteria. “This bill would protect our waters from potential harmful new oil development.”
Tranquillon Ridge is designated as a Marine Protected Area because of its sensitive marine ecosystem, and fishing, as well as public entry, is restricted there.
In 1969, 35 miles of Santa Barbara County’s pristine coastline was devastated by an oil slick resulting from offshore oil extraction. This disaster gave rise to the modern environmental movement and the yearly international celebration, Earth Day.
— Lisa Gardiner is the communications director for state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson.