Oil & Secrecy
PXP and EDC Drop Confidentiality Requirement in Latest Bid for T-Ridge Offshore Deal
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Linda Krop, embattled evangelical environmentalist, says she made one big mistake in her three-years-and-counting effort to gain approval for the controversial Tranquillon Ridge offshore drilling project.
“We will never have a private agreement again,” said Krop, chief counsel for Santa Barbara’s Environmental Defense Center (EDC). “We learned our lesson.”
Krop’s comment came in an interview last week, as she discussed the latest bid by EDC and PXP to gain approval for a new lease for the firm to drill in state waters off the northern Santa Barbara coast, in exchange for a host of environmental concessions. The company’s promises include setting specific future dates for the T-Ridge project—along with drilling from three existing platforms in federal waters off Point Conception—to shut down.
Similar EDC-PXP attempts failed twice last year, when the State Lands Commission and, later, the state Assembly defeated proposals to grant the company a state lease, which would be the first issued by California since Santa Barbara’s disastrous 1969 Union Oil spill. A confidential agreement between EDC and PXP, signed in April 2008, established the terms for the proposed lease; one of the strongest arguments by opponents, both at the Lands Commission and in the Legislature, was that long-established state policy should not be changed on the basis of a secret document.
“The fate of public lands cannot be decided in contracts negotiated behind closed doors,” Controller John Chiang, member of the Lands Commission, said last year, explaining his vote against the lease in a comment that captured the sentiment.
Last week, I obtained a copy of the previously undisclosed agreement (a longer story on its contents can be found at calbuzz.com), then met with Krop, who negotiated it on behalf of environmentalists. Sitting at the desk in her cramped and cozy Garden Street office, Krop:
• Disclosed that EDC and PXP have put together a revised agreement, aimed at addressing the key criticisms made about the project when it lost last year, including a toughening of language to enforce end dates in 2022 for drilling at T-Ridge and the federal Point Arguello Project off Point Conception.
• Revealed that her group’s first agreement was kept confidential at the request of PXP, which feared that industry competitors would find useful proprietary information in it, and that the company has agreed with EDC to make the new agreement public, if and when the Lands Commission sets a date to rehear the application.
• Confirmed that EDC received $100,000 in payments from PXP for legal work done in negotiating the first settlement, and that EDC agreed to testify and publicly support the company’s project in exchange for concessions on drilling and other environmental issues.
“For environmentalists, it’s never been about the money, it really has been about ending current oil production and stopping future oil production,” Krop said. “The reason we advocated for this is because we want the end dates [for offshore oil drilling]. We want the benefits of the agreement.”
The T-Ridge project, on which she began working in 2007, has brought her harsh criticism from some environmental advocates, and strained and broken some longtime personal and professional relationships with erstwhile allies. When she speaks about it, Krop does so with almost evangelical fervor.
“All I can do is speak the truth, and if people want to say something else and people want to ignore what I’ve given them,” she said at one point, “I can’t help that. I can only speak the truth.”
She said environmentalists who oppose the deal with PXP “are perpetuating oil drilling if they continue to stop this proposal,” and blamed any public perception that the project would open the door to more drilling on foes that have mischaracterized the project for unspecified “political reasons.”
“That perception is based on people telling mistruths,” she said, naming Assemblymember Pedro Nava, among others. “They created that perception, they made up that perception. … They’re telling people this is opening the door [to more drilling] when in fact this is closing the door.”
Asked to respond, Nava said: “The State Lands Commission rightfully rejected the EDC/PXP proposal because it is unenforceable and because of the precedent it would set, signaling to the federal government and the drill-baby-drill crowd that California waters were open for business and that offshore oil drilling was welcome. I am proud to stand with Congressmember John Garamendi, California Controller John Chiang, the California Assembly, the California Democratic Party, and more than 100 environmental groups and coastal protection advocates from both coasts in opposition to the California Sanctuary Act-bustin’ EDC/PXP deal.”