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Local News

Goleta Leaders Postpone Resolution Against New Offshore Drilling

The City Council's mention of oil company Venoco in the resolution complicates the matter.

The Goleta City Council voted Tuesday evening to postpone a resolution proclaiming their opposition to new oil exploration, leasing and development in the Santa Barbara Channel.

The 4-1 vote (council member Eric Onnen dissented) came after more than an hour of public comment from pro-drilling advocates such as the Western States Petroleum Association, environmental groups such as Get Oil Out and members of the pro-oil drilling environmental group Stop Our Seeps.

What could have been something of a routine move by this time — a local jurisdiction voicing opposition to the county Board of Supervisors’ plea to Gov. Schwarzenegger to lift the ban on offshore drilling — was complicated by the city’s mention of the oil company Venoco in its resolution.

“In title at least, it looked like a general discussion,” said Steve Greig, government relations official at Venoco. “It was to look at new development and the lifting of the moratorium and the action the Board of Supervisors took.” However, as it was written, Greig said, the resolution went beyond its general discussion into specifics with Venoco.

The oil company has several projects pending from its Ellwood facilities, the most prominent of which is the increased drilling it plans to do from Platform Holly into the South Ellwood oil bed, located a little more than two miles from the Ellwood coast in state waters. The project’s environmental documents are being reviewed by the State Lands Commission, and the company feared that its mention in the anti-new oil drilling resolution could unnecessarily prejudice the decision-makers at the state level.   

The council had various levels of comfort with the resolution as it was written. Council member Roger Aceves, for instance, supported the staff-written resolution as written, saying that a discussion of oil and gas operations in Goleta could not avoid mentioning the local oil operation. Council member Jonny Wallis, meanwhile, supported a minor deletion, while Mayor Michael Bennett pushed for cuts to any mention of the oil company.

“I have to say I was shocked when I heard this weekend that (the resolution) included Venoco,” said Bennett, who said he supported the resolution, but not the mention of the oil company.

Onnen and council member Jean Blois both saw “no need for a resolution at this time.” While Blois ultimately voted along with Bennett, Aceves and Wallis to have the revised resolution return to the council, Onnen did not. 

“I don’t know that this resolution really furthers our goals and objectives,” he said.

While no resolution was passed Tuesday, Goleta came away with the possibility of a long sought-after “end-point” to the Venoco operations off the Ellwood coast, a subject that Greig brought up during his time at the podium.

“We are willing to discuss an end-game, but that is only in the context of this project,” Greig said.

One of the sticking points in the relationship between the oil company and the city has been what the city has called the “never-ending nature” of the state’s lease with Venoco. Expanded drilling out of Ellwood is predicted to provide millions of dollars in property taxes and royalties to the county, but given the county’s financial state, city leaders are pessimistic that Goleta would see any of it.

The resolution will come again before the Goleta City Council in October.

Noozhawk staff writer Sonia Fernandez can be reached at [email protected]

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