Oily Offshore Drilling Deal Between PXP Oil Company and Environmental Defense Center About Profit, Not Compromise
Published in the Orange County Register, April 18, 2010

The proposal touted by The Register to allow the first offshore drilling lease in 41 years in the State Coastal Tidelands Sanctuary at Tranquillon Ridge, Santa Barbara County, is a bad deal for the State of California, with major risks to coastal economies and ecosystems without assurance of the purported benefits; as well, it most certainly will lead to increased drilling at a beachfront near you. Though the original deal had the best of intentions to take down oil platforms, the only true beneficiaries are PXP oil company, a few local and governmental special interests, and the oil industry in general. It is opposed by over 100 community and environmental groups involved in defeating this proposal twice at the State Lands Commission and twice in the Legislature and will continue working against this latest effort.

Rest assured, granting new offshore drilling leases will not make us more energy independent, given the US consumes 20.7 million barrels per day while producing only 8.3 million. New offshore drilling nationwide, including what President Obama just green-lighted for exploration, plus the reserves off our coast, could only add two to four million barrels per day to that figure: a few dirty buckets in a sea of black toxic sludge flowing into the coffers of Big Oil. In fact, opening the entire coast of California could only add about 13 months of oil into the greedy pipeline at current consumption rates, so increasing drilling here is only about industry interests, not any romantic notion of self-sufficiency.

Understand that the risks for more drilling far outweigh the slight benefit of more oil drilling. On a consistent basis about 880,000 gallons of oil per year leak, spill, drain or explode into our oceans from US drilling operations. Between 1995 and 2010, the MMS estimated there were 183 spills in the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific. During Hurricane Katrina, 100 platforms were destroyed, causing the biggest spill since the Exxon Valdez; the latter event, it should be noted, has left 26,000 gallons of oil still soaked into the coast of Prince William Sound twenty years later. More recently, a high technology rig blew out off the coast of West Australia last year, spilling between 400 and 2000 barrels per day, covering 1000 square miles of Timor Sea, and kept leaking oil for more than two months until they could figure out how to cap it.

The Tranquillon Ridge deal purports to allow new slant drilling from an existing federal rig into the state reserves for a specified period, and would require the cessation of production at four federal leaseholds and the shuttering of onshore processing facilities. Despite hopeful protestations by PXP's local groups turned paid-lobbyists, it is impossible to bind the federal government in the future and their overseeing agency, the U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS), to end production on the wells.

A deal between private parties and the State of California cannot foretell the future for federal energy interests, and requires citizens to trust an oil company and their adherents to hold to their agreement. Unfortunately, PXP only controls one of four platforms involved, and the MMS is statutorily bound to extract all of the resource. In the near- and long-term, given most assured oil shortages and escalating prices, the federal government could use eminent domain to ensure the wells continued production as being “in the national interest.” This deal sounds good for some today but very likely will be rendered meaningless tomorrow.

The Tranquillon Ridge proposal is merely about PXP's bottom line and a new business model that will pave the way for extending offshore drilling up and down the California Coast -- including off Huntington Beach and possibly in the Oceanside-Capistrano Basin. Though the federal moratorium against drilling here has been extended until 2017, thereafter could be another story. And right now Orange County Republican Assemblyman DeVore has a bill, touted by Governor Schwarzenegger, to fund the budget with more drilling just like this proposed oily deal inside the state-controlled three-mile-limit that assures more seismic testing, toxic drilling muds, seabed erosion, leaking pipelines, blowouts, spills, and rig air pollution in full view of surfing contests, romantic beach-side lunches, and panoramic views from five-star hotels.

An oil severence tax is the only way to fund our state budget with oil revenues, and California is the only major oil producing state without one. Assemblymen Nava and Torrico, both running for State Attorney General, have fair-share severence tax proposals that should be signed into law tomorrow.

Energy indepenedence and dealing with massive climate change does not include more drilling in our sensitive sea beds. We must invest political and economic capital today into a sustainable energy protfolio that includes clean renewable resources and technology, conservation, and smart growth in our cities that promotes mass transportation and urban efficiency. For the State of California to sell our coasts to oil companies in exchange for unsubstantiated end dates and future revenues that would never compensate us should a major disaster befall us is unconscionable and should be opposed by all who value our world class beaches and pristine coastal ecosystems.

Jack Eidt
Director of Planning
Wild Heritage Planners