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Local News

Bill to Ban Offshore Drilling at Tranquillon Ridge Fails on Assembly Floor

A bill seeking to ban offshore drilling in an area off of Vandenberg Air Force Base went before the California Assembly on Tuesday night, but could not get the needed votes to move forward after facing significant opposition from the oil industry.

State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson put forward Senate Bill 1096, which sought to ban offshore drilling at Tranquillon Ridge, located in state waters, but the bill garnered only 29 votes in favor, while 41 were needed to pass the item. Thirty-six people voted against the bill, with many saying they wanted to keep authority with the State Lands Commission.

The vote ends the bill's chance of passing this year because the deadline for both houses to pass legislation ends Sunday.

In 2007, Tranquillon Ridge was designated as a Marine Protected Area, and was been the subject of high-profile brokering between environmentalists and Plains Exploration and Production, or PXP.

The oil company had agreed to directional drill into the area's reserves until 2022, when it would have withdrawn from the operation and donated land as a permanent conservation easement. That deal ultimately fell through when the State Lands Commission voted against it with a 2-1 vote in 2009.

Energy company Sunset Exploration also has been researching a directional drilling operation in the area with ExxonMobil as a partner and maintains no infrastructure would be placed in the marine environment.

The company's president, Bob Nunn, said in a statement Wednesday that the company is prepared to meet the environmental standards put forward by the State Lands Commission and the Coastal Commission.

“We are grateful that the California Legislature recognized the wisdom of not preventing local and state government and regulatory bodies the opportunity to evaluate this project on its merits," Nunn said. "We’re confident that once these bodies recognize we are using safe and proven technology to develop California resources for the benefit of California, support for our project will continue to grow.”

Jackson said in a statement she was "disappointed" by what happened Tuesday night, but remains committed to protecting that area of the coastline from new offshore drilling "for the long haul."

Assemblyman Das Williams, who co-authored the bill with Jackson, argued on the Assembly floor that the bill would have disallowed offshore drilling "in the last place in the state where a lease could potentially be issued."

"I believe that the sensitive marine habitat off the Santa Barbara County coast deserves the same protection as the rest of California's coastline," Williams said, adding that he will continue to fight for protection of the marine environment.

Both cited the California Coastal Sanctuary Act, which states that offshore oil and gas production in certain areas poses an "unacceptably high risk" of damage to marine environments.

Jackson and Williams maintained that the bill would close a loophole in state law that left Tranquillon Ridge vulnerable to offshore drilling, because it extends into state and federal waters, where reserves are being tapped at Platform Irene.

That "loophole" states that a lease could be entered into for oil extraction if the oil is being drained to producing wells on adjacent federal lands and "the lease is in the best interests of the state."

“Even the slightest chance of an oil spill in a Marine Protected Area far outweighs any potential benefit to the state,” Jackson said.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper 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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