Just hours after President Donald Trump announced he would open the door to offshore oil drilling in federal waters — including in the Santa Barbara Channel — State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson asserted that she would slam it shut.
Trump’s executive order released Friday reverses an Obama administration moratorium on oil and gas drilling in federal lands on the Outer Continental Shelf, including beneath the Pacific. The policy “encourage[s] energy exploration and production in order to maintain the Nation’s position as a global energy leader and foster energy security and resilience for the benefit of the American people, while ensuring that any such activity is safe and environmentally responsible.”
But environmentalists like Jackson scoffed at the thought Trump’s order would be environmentally conscious, let alone responsible. “Why should we go back to the dirty, dangerous, and destructive policies of the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s?” Jackson asked in a conference call with reporters on Friday. “This is not a step forward but a step backward.”
Jackson’s bill — SB 188 — would essentially prohibit the development of any infrastructure in state waters needed for new oil development. This would effectively block oil drilled in federal waters (three miles from the shore) from being transported to land.
Oil experts, meanwhile, say environmental opposition might not even be necessary to stop oil drilling. Given slouching oil prices, limited resources, and deep-rooted opposition to drilling on the Central Coast, “Oil companies are not making a big push to do that in the first place,” said Peter Cantle, the director of Santa Barbara County’s energy division. He also questioned the legality of impeding interstate commerce.
Jackson’s bill would bolster the California Sanctuary Act that already bans oil and gas leasing off the left coast. But there are a few exceptions to the 1994 law. For years, the oil company Sunset Exploration has sought to take advantage of one exception by proposing to drill at Vandenberg Air Force Base by a method known as slant drilling. Based on the air force base, Sunset’s operation would be like giant straw that sucks crude oil from Tranquillon Ridge, an oil field partially in state waters.
When asked, Jackson said this bill aims directly at transporting oil from federal waters to the shore. Vandenberg would certainly be included. “As this bill proceeds, we’ll look more carefully at this issue,” she said, adding today’s display of fury was a “direct response to today’s executive order taking us back to the ’60s and ’70s.”
Opposing new oil drilling off the coast of Santa Barbara is a bipartisan sport. Moderate Republicans stress that the Trump administration will allow local communities to have local control. When Ryan Zinke, the Secretary of the Interior, spoke about energy polices under the Trump administration at the Ronald Reagan Center just a week ago, he said, “On the energy question, we’ll look at it on the basis of science, best practices, and the local community is going to have a say.”
Should new areas be opened up to leasing, Cantle added there would be a “long process before anything happens.” Officials in the administration have also said it’ll take years to rework existing energy plans.
In the meantime, Kevin Slagle of Western States Petroleum Association said each company would have to decide “how to proceed.” Given the atmosphere against Big Oil in California, there is no question that’ll be an uphill battle. Senator Dianne Feinstein was adamant that this issue was already settled — communities on the coast made it clear they don’t want offshore drilling. She said in a statement, “California will fight this every step of the way. We do not want oil drilling off our coast. Period.”