Santa Barbara Drilling Plan Faces Bad PR From Gulf Oil Spill

Last week Triple Pundit reported on a breakthrough compromise between environmentalists and an oil company over the future of offshore drilling near Santa Barbara, Calif.

But renewed fears of oil spills raised by the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico may have changed the political landscape, potentially dooming the only viable plan to actually reduce offshore drilling in California.

The plan allows oil company PXP to expand drilling from an existing rig off Santa Barbara into the Tranquillon Ridge geological formation, in exchange for shutting down all PXP’s rigs in 14 years. Without such a deal, PXP could continue to operate its existing rigs, essentially, in perpetuity.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger told the San Francisco Chronicle he still supports the proposed compromise. From the Chron:

“This doesn’t really change anything, because we’re looking at a platform that’s already in operation,” said Jeff Macedo, the governor’s spokesman. “If anything this makes the T-Ridge project that much more important, because it would put a sunset date on when it shuts down.”

But the decision is not his,  rather that of the State Lands Commission (SLC), which has final say on new drilling in state lands (the rig that would do the drilling sits in federal waters, but would drill sideways into state waters).

Republican Abel Maldonado, who was sworn in as Lt. Governor just last week, sits on the SLC and could be the swing vote on the three-member commission.

The oil spill in the Gulf certainly presents opponents a hefty rhetorical device with which to attack the proposal, which was worked out by PXP and the Environmental Defense Center (EDC), an environmental law firm.

Assemblyman Pedro Nava said the oil spill in the Gulf shows that all offshore drilling in California should be stopped. Democrat Nava, who is running for State Attorney General, pointed out that the rig at which the T-ridge drilling would take place is a mere three miles from shore.

“The oil spill in the Gulf was more than 40 miles away from the coast and took a week and a half to reach land. A spill at T-Ridge would be on beaches within hours,” he says.

But the EDC presented a full-throated defense of the Tranquillon Ridge plan, saying in a press release (PDF) that it is “the only means available to shut down existing drilling offshore California.”

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.

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