The Santa Monica city council on Tuesday takes up a resolution against drilling for oil in Santa Monica Bay. The council has no authority over any current drilling proposals, so the vote is largely symbolic. But it will signal the position of civic leaders on a controversial drilling plan in nearby Hermosa Beach.
In March, Hermosa Beach residents will consider whether to roll back a long-standing ban on oil drilling. A company called E & B Natural Resources is seeking permission to put up a rig on shore and sink 34 wells using directional drilling, also known as slant drilling, out into the bay. Critics of the Hermosa Beach drilling plan are touting Santa Monica’s resolution as a barometer of opposition to increased urban oil drilling.
Hermosa Beach first banned oil drilling from its shores in the early 20th century. Then in 1984, voters approved two initiatives allowing for oil production at a site within the city. Hermosa Beach approved an agreement and lease with Macpherson Oil Company; but 11 years after the initial approval, in 1995, voters reversed themselves. Macpherson sued the city, and reached a legal settlement, selling its rights in Hermosa Beach to E & B Natural Resources.
If the E & B Natural Resources drilling project moves forward, Hermosa Beach could receive hundreds of millions of dollars in oil royalties. If the project is blocked, the city will have a harder time balancing its books. Hermosa Beach would have to return a loan E & B made to the city, paying the company $17.5 million.
Environmental advocacy group Heal the Bay and some coastal cities have argued risks from drilling go far beyond Hermosa Beach, affecting the whole shore. Other concerns: oil drilling produces more air pollution associated with asthma and the environmental impact report for the proposed project describes a 12% chance of an oil spill over 35 years.
This story will be updated.