Hannah Beth Jackson
Paul Wellman (file)

A bill that would ban new oil development in state waters in the Santa Barbara Channel — specifically in an offshore tract known as Tranquillon Ridge — quietly bit the dust in Sacramento, dying a slow death in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. No action was technically taken on the bill, co-sponsored by State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, but when it failed to be “reported out of committee” its doom was sealed.

This marks the second year in a row that Jackson unsuccessfully sought to ban further oil development in Tranquillon Ridge, the site of especially nasty internecine warfare among Democrats and environmentalists normally aligned. Last year, the bill was solidly trounced, as Exxon and other oil companies lobbied forcefully and effectively to stop it.

This year, Jackson re-introduced the measure in the wake of the Refugio Oil Spill. Although the bill garnered far more support from business interests representing tourism and outdoor activities industries, it still faced stiff opposition and lukewarm support. It made it off the Senate floor — before being assigned to committee — with only two votes to spare.

Currently Exxon is exploring a plan to slant drill into the Tranquillon Ridge subsurface reserves from Vandenberg Air Force Base. South Coast environmentalists — lead by the Environmental Defense Center (EDC) — vehemently oppose the proposal for a number of reasons. They had strongly backed a previous plan — agreed to under intense negotiations with PXP Oil Company — that, at least on paper, would have set a finite drop-dead date by which all oil development on that lease would have to stop.

Such a concession has never been made before or since by any oil company in Santa Barbara County. Exxon and its slant-drilling partners had lobbied behind the scenes to kill the PXP deal in hopes of giving their Vandenberg ambitions political breathing room. In this melodrama, Jackson, then a private attorney, had lobbied for the PXP deal on the EDC dime.


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