Archive » August 28, 2008
SUPES WRESTLE WITH OIL LETTER TO GOVERNOR
By Robert Perry, Staff Writer
Supes wrestle with oil letter to governor
The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors heard presentations by oil industry representatives, environmental groups, and citizens with pleas to both send and not send a letter to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger urging that the state consider a change in policy that would allow expanded offshore oil exploration and extraction.
Supervisors Joseph Centeno, 5th District, and Brooks Firestone, 3rd District, asked that the item be agendized for discussion.
A group known as Stop Oil Seeps in California says that the oil seeps and methane gas leaks near Coal Oil Point in Goleta would be lessened if offshore drilling were allowed to proceed in areas previously banned.
The group points to a 1999 study done at the Coal Oil Point seep, the most active oil seep in the world. SOS maintains that the studies prove that drilling in the area around Platform Holly decreased the pressure in the oil field and slowed the seepage of oil and methane gasses.
Bruce Luyendyk, a professor of marine geophysics at UC Santa Barbara, was one of the authors of the studies cited by the group. In a letter to the board of supervisors, Luyendyk said, “The relationship between ongoing production and decreasing seepage remains a hypothesis that is not fully tested.”
Although Luyendyk did not say that the group was misrepresenting his findings he did say in a statement to the supervisors that the group “is making a broad extrapolation of our work that is not justified.”
The Santa Barbara coastline has been plagued by oil seepage for thousands of years. The earliest settlers in the area, the Chumash Indian tribes, used congealed oil found on Santa Barbara beaches to seal their ocean going canoes, making them waterproof enough to travel into the channel out to the islands more than 20 miles from the shoreline.
On Jan. 29, 1969, the worst oil spill until the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska occurred on an oil platform owned by Union Oil only six miles off Summerland.
For more than 11 days, crude oil gushed from a broken casing on the ocean floor below the platform, covering beaches from Santa Barbara to Ventura with thousands of gallons of sticky oil.
The spill was responsible for millions of dollars of damage to the coastline, the deaths of thousands of sea creatures including dolphins, whales, sea lions, and sea birds, and extensive damage to Santa Barbara’s tourist industry.
The 1969 oil spill was also the impetus for the modern environmental movement, which brought tighter controls on oil exploration, drilling, and environmental review of everything from coastal development to new hotels.
Supervisors heard testimony from supporters of drilling expansion who said that the increased production would be available within a short term of about 18 months, would provide much needed revenue to the county, and could be accomplished without the hazards that were responsible for the 1969 spill.
Opponents of drilling accused supporters of twisting and misrepresenting scientific studies to give the impression that drilling offshore would alleviate the oil crisis, and could be done in a way that would decrease the natural seepage that occurs.
The Community Environmental Council quoted from an Energy Information Administration report that said “increased drilling would have an insignificant impact on oil prices, even by 2030.”
The Energy Information Administration is a branch of the U.S. Department of Energy.
More than 80 public speakers signed up to have a two minute opportunity to address the board, but many left as the day wore on.
There were about an equal numbers of speakers in favor of sending the letter as there were in opposition.
The board concluded the public hearing after 6:00 p.m., finally deciding by a predictable 3-2 vote (Firestone, Centeno, and Joni Gray, 4th District, voting in favor; Salud Carbajal, 1st District, and Janet Wolf, 2nd District, opposed), to send the letter advocating an end to the moratorium, with a few minor changes, to the governor.
It’s been reported that it is unlikely that Governor Schwarzenegger will take any action to expand oil drilling — in the past he has not been inclined to do so. Additionally, the state has little control over drilling on federal offshore leases, which are controlled through the U.S. Department of Energy.