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Air Force to Study Offshore Oil Drilling Option at Vandenberg

The U.S. Air Force has announced plans to study the feasibility of extracting offshore oil and gas from land sites on Vandenberg Air Force Base and whether the endeavor would compromise the base’s overall mission.

An Opportunity Assessment will be conducted over the next several months, although an official start date and information about what the study entails was not available Wednesday, according to Andy Roake, a communications chief with Air Force Space Command.

The study will take two to three months to examine the “economic, environmental and political” viability of extended-reach drilling technology, according to the Air Force Space Command announcement.

The analysis, which will be carried out by the Air Force Civil Engineer Center, comes after a decade of receiving inquires from several oil companies — Sunset Exploration Inc. and Exxon Mobile among them — and elected state and federal officials.

“Initial information obtained by the (Air Force) indicates there may be potential for new technology slant drilling capable of targeting oil deposits off VAFB’s coastline from locations with minimal or mitigable mission/environmental impacts,” Roake said.

He said Vandenberg has accommodated oil drilling for many years, with a total of five active oil wells.

The Plains Exploration & Production Company (PXP) has four producing oil wells on base, one idle well and two active water injection wells, Roake confirmed.

PXP, which has a permit for 10 wells, drilled an extended reach drilling well on land last year that did not produce oil, and Conway Energy also operates one well on base, he added.

If the assessment deems extraction feasible, the Air Force would consider a possible Enhanced Use Lease (EUL) with an entity interested in pursuing the rights to extract the offshore oil and gas.

Roake said a time line has not yet been associated with when oil extraction could begin.

The Air Force announced the assessment as a preliminary step, noting the care being taken so Vandenberg’s space and launch missions are not somehow negatively impacted by a potential installation.

U.S. law authorizes military services to lease non-excess land for non-federal development if the use doesn’t conflict with mission requirements, and is beneficial to the military service leasing the property.

If officials choose to move forward with an EUL — a lease of non-excess land to a private developer in exchange for cash or authorized in-kind — a developer would be forced to comply with all local, state and federal laws and regulations.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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