Oil drilling off California coast approved by House panel

Congressional Super Committee Close To Failure On Deficit Reduction Plan

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The U.S. Capitol November 21, 2011 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

A GOP-led House committee has approved bills that open the Arctic National Wildlife Preserve to oil drilling, encourage oil shale development in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming and push new oil drilling off the Santa Barbara coast.

Republicans say the measures provide energy security and a source of revenue to help pay for roads and bridges, but it was the offshore oil lease sales that sparked the most spirited debate. Any discussion of offshore oil drilling among Californians revolves around the 1969 spill off the Santa Barbara coast that dumped 200,000 gallons of crude across 35 miles of coastline.

Democratic Congressman John Garamendi of Walnut Creek referred to it as he offered objection after objection and amendment after amendment to stall the offshore drilling bill. "There is the probability of oil spills, small and on occasion large, when you drill from the ocean," he said.

But Republican Congressman Tom McClintock, who grew up near Santa Barbara, told fellow members of the House Natural Resources Committee that oil spills in California have been happening for centuries. "It goes back to 1542 when Cabrillo sailed up the coast of California and recorded a massive oil spill off of Ventura, Santa Barbara. It was natural spillage that was seeping up into the ocean. Carpenteria nearby got its name because the Chumach Indians used the huge tar deposits that washed up on the beaches to caulk their canoes."

He added that folks living near that beach keep turpentine in the garage to clean off “globs" of tar on their feet from what he called “natural oil seepage.” He insisted the drilling there has "actually relieved the pressure to the point that the beaches are actually cleaner there than they were in the mid-1960s."

Garamendi suggested a compromise: a process known as horizontal drilling. He says nearly all the oil off the California coast can be reached from the shore. But that suggestion, like every other Democratic amendment, was turned down.

By a vote of 25–19, the committee approved the sale of leases off the coast of Santa Barbara by July of 2014. The measure now goes to the full House for a vote.

Republicans say revenue from drilling will help pay for repairing roads and bridges.

"There is no denying that gas prices are too high and major infrastructure projects are needed immediately," said Republican Congressman Jeff Denham of Fresno.

Grace Napolitano of Norwalk and John Garamendi of Walnut Creek raised objections at today’s Natural Resources Committee hearing. Congressman Garamendi said GOP amendments in the bills turn back the clock on federal regulations.

"You’re pushing aside the Federal Land Policy Management Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Energy Policy Act, and saying they’re not to be considered," Garamendi said, "and that what was done in 2008 by the Bush administration is quite satisfactory. Get out of the way and go forward."

Garamendi and Napolitano raised concerns about water pollution during discussion of the bill promoting oil shale development.

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