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Green Light Given to Drill at Vandenberg

Sunset Exploration and ExxonMobil Happy, Enviros and Capps Not


A highly anticipated assessment that clears the way for slant drilling from Vandenberg Air Force Base was released last week. Several years ago, plans to drill on the base were all but extinct after base commanders said such projects could interfere with base operations and compromise military missions. But the possibility of drilling was reopened last fall when Vandenberg announced the Air Force Civil Engineer Center would conduct a study to determine if the positives (economic) outweighed the negatives (environmental risk). The two-page executive summary gives the green light for slant drilling, though key details remain hazy.

The person happiest with the preliminary findings is probably Sunset Exploration founder Robert Nunn, who, in partnership with ExxonMobil, has pushed to tap the offshore Tranquillon Ridge field for almost a decade. Though Sunset Exploration still has to beat out competitors in a bidding contest, the company undoubtedly has a huge head start. “It’s an exciting development,” Nunn said, adding that extended-reach drilling ​— ​in which “land-based” rigs drill vertically and then horizontally to reach oil reservoirs ​— ​leaves environmental habitats unharmed and has been safely used for decades in California.

Not so, say Santa Barbara environmentalists who were frustrated with the results. “We would hope for a little more transparency,” said Environmental Defense Center attorney Linda Krop. Krop argued the public has been “left in the dark,” and this brief summary lacks specifics such as the locations ​— ​and number ​— ​of the drilling sites. Further, Vandenberg is largely undeveloped and “one of the most important environmental areas on the planet,” affirmed Krop.

Also seriously concerned with the release is Congressmember Lois Capps, who has long opposed new offshore drilling projects. “While I have not yet reviewed the report in detail, it is clear that the Air Force’s Opportunity Assessment released today opens the door to new drilling along our coast,” Capps said in a statement. “I will continue to follow this closely and actively engage the Air Force to highlight these concerns and ensure that input from local stakeholders is properly and fully considered throughout this process.”

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