The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday morning will consider the energy crisis, and with it a core environmental and economic issue: to drill or not to drill. The board is meeting in Santa Maria.

“Given the current budget constraints of the county, it is only prudent to support the exploration and extraction of oil and natural gas both on and off shore, with an enhancement of revenues to local governments,” the county staff report reads.

Oil and natural gas leases in the region are producing 13.2 million barrels of oil and 13.9 billion cubic feet of natural gas. According to the staff report, there is a potential for 187.4 million more barrels of oil to be extracted and 47.9 billion cubic feet of natural gas to be extracted from existing undeveloped reserves on developed leases.

Including Tranquillon Ridge in northern Santa Barbara County, as yet unleased state lands are estimated to hold 761 million barrels of oil and 189 billion cubic feet of natural gas, and the offshore area could yield 4.47 billion barrels of oil and 8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Santa Barbara County gets about $5.5 million from oil operations, in the form of fees, California royalties, coastal revenue and property taxes. With development of Plains Exploration & Production Co.‘s (PXP) Tranquillon Ridge field and Venoco Inc.‘s South Ellwood and Paredon (in Carpinteria) fields, the county stands to receive about $22 million annually during the next 14 years.

The county recommends the submittal of a letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger suggesting a change in policy that would “allow expanded oil exploration and extraction,” citing a struggling economy, increased unemployment, better technology and the possibility of a national fuel emergency.

If in a fuel emergency local policies were set aside by the federal government’s emergency actions, the “county would have less authority in environmental safeguards, oversight and economic benefits. A better policy would be to allow a gradual and intelligent expansion of oil exploration and extraction, rather than to accomplish the same under emergency conditions,” said the letter, which has been refuted by Assemblyman Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara..

So far, the topic has been addressed by a diverse section of the public, including the Community Environmental Council, SOS California, Dr. Bruce Luyendyk from UCSB and interested community members.

Noozhawk staff writer Sonia Fernandez can be reached at