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Revised Deal with PXP Aims to End Drilling Off Coast

Elected officials and environmental groups are hopeful the agreement will gain the support of state regulators

Environmental groups and elected officials gathered at Santa Barbara’s Shoreline Park on Wednesday to unveil the latest plan to shut down oil production in Santa Barbara County by striking a deal with Plains Exploration & Production Co., an offshore oil and natural gas development company.

Known as the Tranquillon Ridge Project, it would allow increased production and slant drilling in state waters off the coast near Point Conception, while setting an end date on drilling operations and putting nearly 4,000 acres of land owned by PXP into a permanent conservation easement.

“The bottom line is that this plan puts an end to drilling along California’s coast,” Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, said at the morning news conference. “The coalition supporting this plan has been leading the fight against former President [George W.] Bush’s offshore drilling program, which included new drilling off California. Last week, President Barack Obama wisely rejected this proposal for California.”

The Environmental Defense Center, which has taken more or less of a lead role on the Tranquillon Ridge negotiations, has maintained for the better part of the past three years that the benefits of the deal made it willing to compromise with PXP.

In addition to the EDC, the coalition of environmental groups pushing for the agreement include Get Oil Out — a grassroots environmental organization formed in response to the 1969 oil spill at Platform A just off the coast of Santa Barbara — the Citizens Planning Association, the Surfrider Foundation-Santa Barbara Chapter and the Sierra Club, among others.

Longtime activist Selma Rubin said the agreement represents the first opening to abolish unsightly oil-drilling platforms
Longtime activist Selma Rubin says the deal represents “the first opening” to abolish unsightly oil platforms. (Ben Preston / Noozhawk photo)

A similar agreement had been approved by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors in 2008, but the State Lands Commission denied it 2-1 in January 2009, with Lt. Gov. John Garamendi and State Controller John Chiang calling the mandatory 2022 shutdown date unenforceable. At the time, Garamendi expressed concern that the deal was too hasty, and that it would set a bad precedent allowing pro-drilling groups to push development in other areas along the state’s coastline.

EDC Chief Counsel Linda Krop said the coalition hopes that the new agreement gains the full backing of the Attorney General’s Office and the State Lands Commission to provide enforcement of its included shutdown date, greenhouse gas limits and cessation of new leases in federal waters.

“This agreement is fully completed and signed, and the next step is for PXP to bring it back to the State Lands Commission [for approval],” she said.

The 2008 deal split the environmental community, with those opposing the deal including Assemblyman Pedro Nava and his wife, Susan Jordan, who is running to succeed him. Nava released a statement yesterday in opposition to the new deal. “The EDC/PXP deal would make Santa Barbara the only location on the entire West Coast to allow, invite and embrace new drilling in state waters. It still sets a terrible precedent, and remains a bad idea,” he said.

Selma Rubin, a longtime activist who cut her teeth in environmental activism opposing a large housing development at El Capitan in the early 1970s, attended Wednesday’s news conference.

“I’ve been working with these people for a long time,” the 95-year-old Rubin said.. “It’s been a confrontational relationship, but I still believe in discussion, mediation and talking. I hate the sight of those platforms out there. They’re ugly. This is the first opening we’ve had to get rid of them.”

It’s not yet known when PXP will formally file its application.

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

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