Oil Talks Get Slick

Local Government Looks to State, Oil Companies for Clean-up

Representatives from state agencies and local government met at Goleta City Hall on Thursday to discuss long-term clean-up plans for oil production facilities in the Santa Barbara Channel and Goleta Valley.

Led by Pedro Nava, chair of the California State Assembly’s Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials, employees of the State Lands Commission, Department of Conservation, and Western States Petroleum Association attended an oversight hearing with Goleta City Council members.

Pedro Nava
Click to enlarge photo

Paul Wellman (file)

Pedro Nava

The hearing included debates over who is responsible for orphaned oil platforms along the coast, as well as the pipelines, well casings, and other industrial debris protruding from Goleta’s shores. And, in the event of an explosion or spill, the participants discussed where the financial guarantees to cover local liabilities and losses will come from.

No one’s taking interest in cleaning it up,” said Goleta Councilmember Roger Aceves. Since the oil companies responsible for the leftover structures aren’t around to pick up after themselves, Aceves said he believes the responsibility falls to the state of California, which owns and controls the land. Another solution he suggested was that “a portion of the financial revenue of the oil and gas harvested from (Goleta) tidelands be dedicated to cleaning up this mess.”

Nava also recommended that the funds to cover local damages come from the oil companies. Currently, California is the only state that doesn’t charge oil companies an oil service fee. Texas charges a fee of 12.5 percent per barrel, and Alaska charges 25 percent, Nava said.

By charging a modest 10 percent per barrel, California would produce $1.5 billion towards hospitals, education, and the environment, he said. “We just need the oil companies to pay more,” Nava said. “That’s the answer.”

But the representative of Western States Petroleum, David Smyser, disagreed. “I believe the funds are already there,” said Smyser. The oil industry creates more than 300,000 high-paying jobs in California, provides millions of taxes to the state, and pumps even more money back into the economy, Smyser said. Without the industry, California’s economy would take a serious hit in a time when it can’t afford one, he said. And, the Department of Conservation has bonds and programs available that localities can apply for and benefit from, said Elena Miller, the department’s State Oil and Gas Supervisor.

Nava said he was optimistic that something good will come out of these talks.

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