Sunday, May 20 , 2018, 2:52 pm | A Few Clouds 66º


Local News

Local Reaction Mixed to New Federal Offshore Drilling Plan

It has its supporters and opponents — and those who say it doesn't go far enough either way

In a surprising move, President Barack Obama announced Wednesday that his administration has signed off on expanding oil and gas development and exploration in some federal waters, citing a reduction on dependence of foreign oil and job creation as the primary motives.

The California coast is not included in the plan, but Outer Continental Shelf lands are now open for study and potential development in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, much of the East Coast, as well as the coast of Northern Alaska. Click here to view a map of the affected areas.

The strategy will guide the 2007-12 offshore oil and gas leasing program, as well as the 2012-17 program, according to the Department of Interior.

And, as exploration in those areas expands, Santa Barbara County is never far from a discussion of its own about leases for oil and gas.

Historically prickly toward talk of new leasing since the infamous 1969 oil spill, the debate on drilling is as alive ever.

Though the energy plans introduced this week don’t include the West Coast, there are 43 oil leases off Santa Barbara County’s coastline, and in the past year, there’s been an influx of proposals in the outer continental shelf, which lies just beyond state waters.

One of the most visible to county residents has been Plains Exploration & Production Co.‘s Tranquillon Ridge offshore oil and gas project in northern Santa Barbara County. That proposal most likely will be coming back before the State Lands Commission this year.

Noozhawk gauged local reaction Wednesday to the president’s plan, and responses varied.

Among those who echoed support for the plan were representatives from the Environmental Defense Center, who said that although they had concerns about drilling in other regions, they were pleased to learn about the revision.

“We are thrilled that the federal government has decided to protect the California coast against new oil drilling,” Linda Krop, chief counsel of the EDC, said in a statement Wednesday. “This plan responds to the widespread opposition to offshore oil development in our community.”

Existing leases and platforms aren’t affected by the plan, but Krop reaffirmed the group’s commitment to shutting down existing production.

“It is time that we not only prevent new leasing, but that we also put an end to the existing platforms operating off our coast,” Krop said.

While Southern California waters hold moderate amounts of recoverable oil and gas, “over much of the Pacific OCS, there is low available resource potential and low interest from the oil and gas industry,” according to the Department of Interior’s Web site. “There is consistent opposition from the public, the state and members of Congress in the region for expanded offshore development at this time.”

But the leader of another local group, the Community Environmental Council, said the approach “moves the county in exactly the wrong direction.”

CEC Executive Director Dave Davis said Congress should focus on the development of energy sources such as solar, wind and geothermal.

“We need to break our addiction to oil and the use of other fossil fuels and prepare the nation for a transformation to a renewable energy future,” he said, adding that increasing drilling would result in a false sense of energy independence. “This great nation can do better than rely on short-term ‘fixes’ to this addiction.”

Others say the plan doesn’t go far enough.

Western States Petroleum Association President Catherine Reheis-Boyd said the group is disappointed the California coast won’t be included in the plan.

“California currently imports around 320 million barrels of oil per year from foreign sources — about half the total oil we need to keep the state’s economy moving,” she said.

Reheis-Boyd said that a fully developed California coast could replace foreign imports for up to 33 years, and replace California’s imports from Saudi Arabia for more than a century.

She also said additional development would bring in much-needed jobs and royalties for the state.

Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, issued a statement Wednesday, echoing her support for the president’s plan.

“We still have a great deal of work left to protect our coast, including putting an end to the existing oil drilling off California,” she said. “That means getting a timetable in place to shut down and remove existing oil platforms currently threatening our economically valuable coastline. ... It’s past time to come to an agreement on how and when they will be removed.”

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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