Less than a year after the California State Lands Commission denied a proposal by Plains Exploration Company (PXP) to extend an offshore oil lease located at Tranquillon Ridge-a rich oil deposit located beneath the ocean’s floor near Point Conception-a new proposal by Sunrise/ExxonMobil to slant drill from Vandenberg Air Force Base was discussed in an informational session at the State Lands Commission hearing in Long Beach on Tuesday afternoon. Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi, chair of the commission, had been a vocal opponent of the PXP project-which included a deal struck with Santa Barbara environmentalists to end drilling by 2022 and place thousands of acres into permanent conservation easement-but supported the proposal to drill from land. Although Sunrise/ExxonMobil owns subsurface mineral rights beneath Vandenberg and is entitled to reasonable access, Vandenberg denied access to offshore oil reserves from land last year. Linda Krop, lead counsel for Santa Barbara-based Environmental Defense Center (EDC)-which, along with other environmental advocacy organizations brokered the PXP deal-argued that drilling from onshore at other locations would violate a state law that allows state oil leases to expand only if they drain into existing federal production sites such as nearby Platform Irene. Sunset’s proposal would not, as it taps into the same production area as PXP’s proposal. “This can’t occur anywhere else in the state,” she said, citing concern that allowing state law to be pushed aside would lead to more drilling elsewhere in the state.
Under the PXP plan, slant drilling would have been effected from Platform Irene, but Garamendi, who had stated that allowing new offshore drilling was environmentally risky, soundly advocated the onshore drilling proposal as the environmentally superior alternative. Krop countered that the same risk exists because a new facility would have to be created, but Garamendi continued, speaking through the public portion of the meeting until after the commission’s closed session had concluded, causing most of the would-be public commenters, many of whom had been waiting for hours to speak, to give up and leave.