This week’s question: How much in royalties would Santa Barbara County receive if President Donald Trump fully opened up offshore oil development off the county’s coast?
— Tom Becker
It’s a tricky hypothetical question that is dependent on a number of factors, including what constitutes “fully opened.”
Even if the state and federal governments eliminated barriers to offshore oil and gas drilling operations, private oil companies would have to choose to restart or offer up their infrastructure for use.
It’s also difficult to speculate how many new platforms — if any — would be sought be those companies.
State officials are not keen on offshore drilling, and the State Lands Commission is strictly opposed to offering new leases in state waters.
In April, the Trump administration issued an executive order for the Interior Department, which oversees federal waters, to “give full consideration” to changing oil and gas operations in places that could ultimately include those off the California coast.
State officials have vowed to fight any changes to those operations off California, however.
The Los Angeles Times reported that no new leases in federal waters have been granted since 1984, and that most California oil drilling occurs on land.
There is only one drilling platform off the county coast in state waters: Platform Holly, formerly of Venoco and now the ward of the State Lands Commission, which is currently in the process of decommissioning the 30-well structure.
Fifteen platforms exist in federal waters off the county coast, and there are 23 in the Santa Barbara Channel region. Linda Krop, chief counsel of the Environmental Defense Center, told Noozhawk in May that 15 of those 23 are still operating.
Those platforms in federal waters don’t bring in any revenue for the county, according to County Auditor-Controller Theo Fallati. The lone one in state waters does, though.
In 2016, all of Venoco’s properties, not just Holly (which was shut down because of the 2015 Refugio oil pipeline leak), brought in $1.6 million in property taxes for the county. The amount fluctuated each year, with more than $7 million in 2014, according to county data.
With Venoco going out of business, Fallati said the money the county will receive from its one offshore drilling source of revenue will continue to diminish.