Santa Barbara politicians fighting the drawn-out battle over drilling oil off the Vandenberg Air Force Base advocated this week for a state bill that would end the possibility once and for all. SB 788 — co-authored by State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson and Assemblymember Das Williams — is functionally identical to a bill Jackson sponsored last year that died in the Assembly. But supporters hope this year’s bill will be successful when it reaches the Assembly in coming weeks as the Refugio Oil Spill is still in the forefront of people’s minds.
The bill would prohibit oil companies from drilling in waters three miles off Tranquillon Ridge — labeled a protected area in 2007 — ending an exception in state law that permits drilling in state waters if the federal operations are already tapping the reservoirs. The idea was thought to be practically dead until last year when air force officials reopened the notion of drilling up to 30 wells — using extended reach technology — on the base.
“It’s do or die time,” Jackson said Monday morning with Environmental Defense Center representatives, elected officials, among others, standing behind her. Critics note Jackson and enviros supported a deal between oil company Plains Exploration and Production (PXP) and Environmental Defense Center in 2009 that would have allowed the company to drill up to 17 wells with the condition that they would terminate in 2022. When asked, Jackson said no other company out there has agreed to such a plan.
At the close of the press conference, a heckler walking by told the group to drive home in their petroleum-based cars. “Oil helps this economy and it shouldn’t just be denigrated,” the woman charged. Jackson responded, “ . . . we now can learn because of technology to wane ourselves off of it so that we no longer impact the planet.” The commenter swung back, “Well, we haven’t done it yet.” And Jackson added, “We will make our best efforts.”