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Offshore Oil Foes Pack Hearing on New Exploration

Drilling critics press their case at San Francisco meeting with Obama administration

People from all over California converged on San Francisco on Thursday to air their opinions on the fate of petroleum exploration on the Outer Continental Shelf. The hearings, moderated by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, was one of a series as his department considers a five-year program for oil and gas production.

A contingent from Santa Barbara County also made it to the hearing, including staff from the offices of Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, and Supervisors Salud Carbajal and Janet Wolf. Santa Barbara City Councilman Das Williams and Linda Krop, chief counsel at the Environmental Defense Center, also were on hand.

“We’re not NIMBYs, we’re looking at alternative energies and we’re open to exploring that,” said Williams, who was part of a delegation that spoke with Salazar prior to the hearing.

The group was one of many that turned out for the Thursday morning hearing, urging Salazar to reconsider the recently expired presidential and congressional moratoria on new oil leases in federal waters. The proposed five-year plan could open up 130 million acres of California coast to new exploration. Opponents say the risk to the environment outweighs the benefits the new exploration may provide.

“We have paid the price for oil exploration,” said Assemblyman Pedro Nava, D- Santa Barbara. “We have seen our beaches stained and soiled by the sacrifice of oil in our coastline.”

Although the majority of speakers opposed new exploration and development, Carpinteria City Councilman Joe Armendariz, business leaders and representatives of the petroleum industry were also present to urge Salazar to consider the new oil operations.

“There are billions of barrels, according to your own MMS (Minerals Management Service) estimates offshore in California in these leases,” said Joe Sparano, president of the Western States Petroleum Association. Developing these leases, he noted, would reduce California’s imports of foreign oil for the next 35 years.

“Right now we import 60 percent of every drop of oil we use today in this country,” he said. “That is not good energy policy.”

Speaking on behalf of business was Van Bivans, who runs the Super 8 motel, 6021 Hollister Ave.

“The small energy glitches we had last summer, when the gas prices went up $4 and almost $5 a gallon seriously impacted our business,” Bivans said. “I’m afraid that if we don’t explore all energy options, including offshore oil leases, that if we ever have something like the late ‘60s or ‘70s with the gas rationing ... I think many businesses could go under.”

At the height of last summer’s gas price increases, the Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to send a letter urging Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to take advantage of the lifting of the moratoria. The cities of Goleta and Santa Barbara subsequently passed resolutions against new drilling and last week the new majority on the Board of Supervisors reversed the previous board’s decision by passing its own resolution against new drilling.

Comment on the draft proposed five-year program will be accepted until Sept. 21. Click here to submit comments or for more information.

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

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