State Lands Commissioner Betty Yee announced she is opposing Venoco Oil’s application to expand its lease in state waters off the coast of UCSB, known as the Ellwood Field, by 3,400 acres. “Oil drilling must not be expanded,” Yee declared via press release. Yee — who serves as California’s Controller, an elected office — said she’s opposed to any new drilling, explaining her statement is consistent with the State Lands Commission’s resolution in December urging former President Barack Obama to ban new oil development along the coast.
The State Lands Commission has final say over Venoco’s expansion plan and Yee is one of three voting commissioners. The other two have taken no position. Given that the lease expansion application is still under environmental review, the timing of Yee’s announcement was unorthodox. Venoco has argued the expansion would allow the company access to 60 million barrels of oil, which over time would yield $200 million in revenues to Santa Barbara County. The company contends that by drilling the new lease area, it can reduce emissions coming off natural seeps to the tune of 100,000 cars’ worth.
Environmentalists challenge such numbers — which are included in the draft environmental reports — charging they emerged from research paid for by Venoco. Currently, the project remains under expanded environmental review, and no date has been set for the next public hearing. Venoco also has an oil processing plant along Goleta’s coast, which the City Council has deemed a legal nonconforming use. This marks the third time Venoco has sought this lease expansion since 2000.