State Lands commission nixes offshore oil drilling compromise

The State Lands Commission has rejected a proposal that could have allowed new drilling off the Santa Barbara coast. KPCC's Molly Peterson reports central coast supporters of the project were surprised by the vote.

Molly Peterson: Plains Exploration in Houston wanted to sink new oil wells from an existing platform. New drilling hasn't happened in 40 years. So to get local support to do it, Plains struck a compromise with anti-oil activists to end operations at four platforms within 13 years. Right now, no platforms have end dates. Santa Barbara city councilman Grant House said oil workers and their longtime opponents all backed the deal.

Councilman Grant House: This is hard won. This is remarkable. This is absolutely unbelievable that you see this room filled with these people of all these different points of view. That are able to come together to do what's right for the channel, for the ocean, for our community.

Peterson: Central coast environmental lawyers who made the agreement with Plains (or PXP) said the deal was solid. Royalty revenues for state coffers would have bubbled up with the crude. Lands Commission member Tom Sheehy, who voted for the compromise, says Plains and the environmental lawyers "bent over backwards" to work up a good deal.

Tom Sheehy: And every time an objection's been raised, they've worked toward a solution. I feel as I've listened to this debate, I keep finding people who want to find reasons it's not good enough, it doesn't work.

Peterson: Commissioner John Chiang voted the proposal down without comment. Commissioner and Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi cast the deciding vote against. He said he knew Santa Barbara supported the plan, but that the issue goes beyond one county.

Commissioner John Garamendi: A concern that I have is the possibility that those who want to see drilling off the coast of California would use this lease as a signal that California is interested and willing to accept more drilling in federal waters and more leases in federal waters.

Peterson: Garamendi also said he wasn't sure the end dates for drilling Plains Exploration agreed to would be enforceable in federal waters. Plains could bring a modified deal back to the commission... but legislators from other coastal districts are lining up against it, too.