A spokesperson for Lt. Gov. John Garamendi denied her boss ever voiced support for a new Santa Barbara County coastal oil project proposed by Sunset Exploration in partnership with ExxonMobil. The project, if realized, would tap into state offshore reserves via a new slant-drilling rig located somewhere on Vandenberg Air Force Base. “The lieutenant governor never said he supported it,” insisted his spokesperson Beth Willon.
Last week, State Senator Alan Lowenthal said during a conference committee meeting on the state budget that he’d spoken to Garamendi and that Garamendi was supportive of the Sunset project. According to Willon, Lowethal’s recollection was inaccurate. “[Garamendi] was going through a list of alternatives. He was just being thorough.”
Sunset Oil executive Robert Dunn said he’d met with Garamendi last week, and walked away “pretty confident we’d get his support.” Dunn acknowledged that he did not discuss the specifics of the Sunset proposal with Garamendi, just the broad policy considerations. When Lowenthal broached the issue last week, it was as part of a conference committee discussion of the state budget, and, more specifically, the governor’s proposal to approve a plan that would allow another oil company, Plains Exploration, to expand its existing onshore operations from federal waters to state waters off the Santa Barbara coast. While many Santa Barbara environmentalists strongly endorsed that plan – arguing it provided the first drop-dead date ever for any offshore oil project – Garamendi, chair of the State Lands Commission, helped kill the deal, arguing it would set a dangerous precedent and open California’s coast up to new oil leasing.
Sunset’s proposal is currently languishing in procedural limbo. Thus, the Air Force has declined to endorse the proposal, arguing that Sunset’s plan interferes with the base’s mission of missile launching. Without Air Force consent, Santa Barbara County has declined to process the Sunset application for environmental review. Sunset’s Dunn is optimistic that Vandenberg can find other locations to accommodate a slant-drilling operation that he said would extend one-half mile below the ocean floor into a large reserve of oil and natural gas off the coast.