In the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil blow-out, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger withdrew his support for the much-debated PXP oil development proposed off the coast of Lompoc. As much as Schwarzenegger said he liked the royalties promised by PXP — up to $1.8 billion over 14 years — he said the risk of offshore oil was just too high.

Given the contentiousness of the issue within Santa Barbara environmental and political circles, the governor’s announcement sparked a chain reaction of press releases among South Coast politicos and activists. Assemblymember Pedro Nava — who vigorously opposed the PXP proposal — stated, “California doesn’t want to suffer the same fate as Louisiana,” adding, “It’s time for PXP to pack up their tent and abandon their plans to open up the California coast to new dirty and dangerous offshore oil drilling.” Susan Jordan, now running for the Democratic party nomination for Nava’s seat, said she was “thrilled Schwarzenegger decided to take a precautionary approach to any new oil drilling off California.” Jordan and Nava are married to each other; both oppose PXP, arguing it will set a dangerous precedent. If approved, the PXP proposal would be the first oil development approved in state waters since Santa Barbara’s oil spill of 1969.

Paul Wellman (file)

Many local environmentalists, led by Environmental Defense Center (EDC) attorney Linda Krop, supported the project based on concessions they exacted from PXP at the bargaining table. Chief among these was an agreement to stop drilling within 14 years in exchange for EDC’s support. Nava and Jordan argued that the deal was legally unenforceable. Krop expressed disappointment at the governor’s announcement, arguing the oil spill demonstrated the urgent need for end-date agreements. “Without our plan, the platforms continue drilling indefinitely. The longer the platforms operate, the greater the risk of an oil spill,” she wrote.

Carpinteria City Councilmember Joe Armendariz, who also runs the Santa Barbara Industrial Association, argued that by global standards, the current spill was not all that remarkable. Notwithstanding the impact to the affected communities, Armendariz said there hasn’t been a major spill in the United States since the Valdez ran aground in 1989. “The oil industry has a very good track record of preventing major spills from happening in spite of those who make their living making claims to the contrary,” said Armendariz.


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