Santa Barbara oil drilling plan resurrected

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California brown pelicans fly near offshore oil rigs after sunset on July 21, 2009 near Santa Barbara, California.

Some of the money lawmakers hope will close California’s deficit could come from a Santa Barbara oil project killed in January. KPCC’s Molly Peterson reports that offshore drilling could now create big controversy.

Molly Peterson: Last year, Central Coast environmentalists represented by lawyer Linda Krop signed a unique agreement with oil company Plains Exploration. Krop says the deal enabled new drilling at an old offshore platform in exchange for a fixed end date.

Linda Krop: It would shut down existing oil production at four platforms and it would also help prevent future federal leasing because those future platforms would no longer be available.

Peterson: Lands commissioners including Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi worried that the state couldn’t enforce that provision. They voted the drilling down.

The present proposal would resurrect drilling, to direct $100 million in oil revenues toward next year’s state budget gap. Garamendi says new drilling from state waters could send the wrong message to managers of U.S. waters farther offshore.

John Garamendi: It invites the federal government to issue new leases off the California coast. We’re going to see more oil drilling off the coast.

Peterson: State legislators would change the approval process, just for this project, to skip the lands commission. Lawyer Linda Krop still supports Plains Exploration’s drilling plan. But she says it’s better to proceed through existing channels.

Krop: You know, we have these commissions for a reason, and we want to keep the integrity of that process intact.

Peterson: Depending on the terms of the budget, oil exploration off Santa Barbara’s coast could only start with the approval of the state coastal commission and federal authorities.

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