Feinstein in the News
New offshore oil drilling proposed off California coast by Trump administration - San Jose Mercury News
Jan 04 2018
By Paul Rogers
Originally published by the San Jose Mercury News
The Trump administration on Thursday proposed the largest expansion of offshore oil and gas drilling in U.S. history, releasing a plan to allow new drilling off the coasts of Northern, Central and Southern California, along with most of the East Coast.
“Today we’re embarking on a new path for energy dominance in America,” U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said during a conference call with reporters.
The plan would allow oil and gas companies to lease 47 areas off America’s coastlines from 2019 to 2024, totaling up to 90 percent of the offshore areas where oil drilling is potentially allowed. Of those, seven of those areas would be in the Pacific Ocean — two off Northern California, two off Central California, two off Southern California and one off Washington state and Oregon.
The draft proposal Thursday did not include specific maps showing exactly which areas would be offered for drilling. But it marks the first time since 1984 — when President Ronald Reagan’s Interior secretary, James Watt, sought to drill off Big Sur and the coasts of San Mateo and Sonoma counties — that any new offshore drilling leases would be offered for sale in California.
California is the nation’s third-largest oil-producing state, behind Texas and North Dakota. Most of its oil is produced from inland wells, but there are 32 offshore platforms and artificial islands where oil is produced, all located in Southern California off the coasts of Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles and Orange counties. They date back to the 1950s, and no new ones have been constructed in more than 30 years because of opposition from political leaders, conservation groups and the tourism and fishing industries.
California Gov. Jerry Brown, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee vowed Thursday to fight the plan.
“They’ve chosen to forget the utter devastation of past offshore oil spills to wildlife and to the fishing, recreation and tourism industries in our states,” said the Democratic governors in a joint statement. “They’ve chosen to ignore the science that tells us our climate is changing and we must reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. But we won’t forget history or ignore science.”
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., echoed those remarks.
“The Trump administration’s reckless ‘drill, baby, drill’ approach threatens our oceans and coasts while doing nothing to increase our energy independence,” Feinstein said, citing the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, which resulted in more than 3 million gallons of black crude from a Union Oil platform coating beaches for miles. “California neither needs nor wants risky new offshore oil rigs, and I’ll do all I can to oppose this plan.”
“It is better to produce energy here and never to be held hostage by foreign entities to our energy needs,” Zinke said, slamming the Obama administration for blocking new drilling on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. “Our country is blessed with vast assets and resources, and this is part of looking at it in a broader view.”
Last week, the Trump administration announced it would loosen oil-drilling rules put in place by the Obama administration after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Those rules, which industry groups opposed, required more frequent safety inspections of oil rig equipment, particularly blow-out preventers, a type of large valve which failed in that spill.
Industry groups on Thursday praised the proposal to open the Pacific to more drilling.
“Our members produce energy in the most environmentally safe and sound way under the most stringent regulatory environment in the world,” said Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association. “This announcement could help California increase our domestic energy production.”
There are a number of significant hurdles to new drilling, however.
First, under federal law, no drilling can occur in national marine sanctuaries, such as Monterey Bay, the Channel Islands or the Greater Farallones off the Marin and Sonoma coasts. Second, all new oil and gas drilling is banned in state waters — from the beach out to three miles offshore — under a law signed by former California Gov. Pete Wilson. The Trump administration’s proposal would allow new drilling in federal waters, from three to 200 miles offshore.
Third, at least 18 California coastal cities and nine of California’s 15 coastal counties — Santa Cruz, San Mateo, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, San Francisco, Sonoma, San Diego, Humboldt and Mendocino — have local laws that ban the construction of onshore oil terminals, pipelines and other oil equipment without a public vote.
Dan Haifley, a Santa Cruz resident who led efforts in the 1980s to pass many of those ordinances, said Thursday he thinks the Trump administration is proposing a massive expansion of new drilling so that in the end it will appear reasonable if it exempts some areas. The draft plan will be published in the Federal Register on Tuesday, with a 60-day public comment period to follow.
“The administration is using the shock-and-awe approach,” said Haifley, executive director of O’Neill Sea Odyssey, an organization that teaches children about the ocean. “Shock at the plan’s size — and awe at the huge task ahead in fighting it. It won’t work. Instead, it will unite Americans to fight for their oceans.”
The plan calls for Northern California and Central Coast waters to be opened for new leasing starting in 2021 and Southern California in 2020. If the Democrats win back either the House or the Senate in 2018 or 2020, however, they could kill those efforts by refusing to fund the Interior Department’s leasing programs, as they did in the 1980s when Leon Panetta, then a Monterey congressman, blocked all funds for the Reagan administration to pursue new drilling off California. In the meantime, the California Coastal Commission, state Attorney General Xavier Becerra and others are likely to file lawsuits aimed at blocking new drilling.
Environmental groups say they will wage a vigorous battle.
“You could not see a more radical, anti-environmental extreme in an offshore leasing program,” said veteran coastal activist Richard Charter, of Bodega Bay, a senior fellow with the Ocean Foundation in Washington, D.C.
“This is a nothing-is-sacred approach to offshore drilling. They are going after everything at once,” he said. “We are going to fight this at every step. In the courts, in the Legislature, in the streets if we have to.