Hannah Beth Jackson
Paul Wellman

The Santa Barbara Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 this week to support a bill co-authored by State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson that would ban offshore oil drilling in state waters along Tranquillon Ridge.

The measure is functionally identical to a bill Jackson sponsored last year that died in the Assembly, but as the Refugio Oil Spill continues to occupy the collective consciousness, it raises the question: Will this year’s state bill be more successful?

SB 788 would eliminate an exemption in state law that allows drilling to take place three miles off the coast where state reserves are being drained by federal operations; T-Ridge is the only oil field off the California coast where this occurs.

Last year’s bill — which the supervisors also supported on a 3-2 vote — came after the federal government released a study that opened the possibility for drilling at Vandenberg Air Force Base; T-Ridge is located off Vandenberg.

On Tuesday, some public speakers defended the oil industry while others called for protection of the California coast. “The recent oil spill shows how real this threat is,” said Environmental Defense Center (EDC) chief counsel Linda Krop. “Even onshore pipelines reach the ocean.” Krop countered arguments made by ExxonMobil that onshore facilities are safer, pointing to an Environmental Impact Review (EIR) drafted by the county’s energy division in 2008 that said onshore drilling is not any safer than offshore.

But Supervisor Steve Lavagnino called it “a little ironic” that Jackson and the Environmental Defense Center advocated years ago for an oil project that would have allowed Plains Exploration & Production (PXP) to tap the same reserves in T-Ridge. However, Supervisor Janet Wolf chimed in, that project came with termination dates and included significant mitigation measures.

Where Supervisor Peter Adam called the measure “capitalizing on an unfortunate event for political gain,” Supervisor Salud Carbajal stressed that the legislation was very similar to one the supervisors voted on last year “before the tragic spill.”

The next three months will be telling as the bill makes its way through Assembly committees, according to Jackson’s office; last year’s bill faced “significant opposition from the oil industry.” The bill already passed the Senate on a 21-13 vote. “If there’s ever a place and time where were should commit to no new offshore drilling, it should be here, in this extraordinary place known as Tranquillon Ridge, and it should be now, when the consequences of oil – oil-covered birds and an oil-drenched coastline – are so fresh in our minds,” Jackson said in a statement.

In the past, Sunset, along with ExxonMobil, proposed to use a newfangled technique called extended-reach drilling. Based on land, the operation reaches horizontally beneath the sea floor, and is deemed safer by the oil company because it doesn’t interact with the underwater habitat in the ocean.

Sunset president Bob Nunn said he is monitoring SB 788 as it “seeks to repeal an authority that was an essential element” in the 1994 California Coastal Sanctuary Act, which allows the state to consider new leasing when federal operations are draining the state’s energy resources.


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