US Tells Plan to Drill Off California Coast

Published on
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San Francisco Chronicle

US Tells Plan to Drill Off California Coast

by
Jane Kay

Proposed offshore oil lease sale plan (John Blanchard / The Chronicle)

SAN FRANCISCO - The U.S. Interior Department, acting in
President Bush's final days in office, proposed on Friday opening up
130 million acres off of California's coast to drilling for oil and
natural gas, including areas off Humboldt and Mendocino counties and
from San Luis Obispo south to San Diego.

After a hands-off policy for a quarter-century, the administration
submitted plans to sell oil and gas leases for most of the U.S. coast,
from the Gulf of Maine to Chesapeake Bay and the Outer Banks of North
Carolina to the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Coast.

New drilling also was proposed in Alaska's Bristol Bay, one of the
nation's most plentiful sources of fish, and the Arctic Ocean.

Washington, Oregon and protected parts of Florida were excluded
along with waters off San Francisco Bay that lie within national marine
sanctuaries.

On Friday, the American Petroleum Institute, the U.S. Chamber of
Commerce and other business groups greeted the news with praise, saying
it is time for domestic energy supplies to be released from the
moratorium.

But environmental groups and some Democratic leaders who oppose
California drilling criticized the 11th-hour move, vowing to work with
the Obama administration to promote energy independence based on clean,
renewable technologies.

"President Bush's last-ditch effort to open our coasts to new
drilling is nothing more than a parting gift to his buddies in the oil
and gas industry," said Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, a member of the
House Natural Resources Committee.

On the eve of the 40th anniversary of the platform blowout that
spilled 3 million gallons of black crude oil on 35 miles of beaches
around Santa Barbara, Capps said, "New offshore drilling would not
lower gas prices, make us more energy independent or get our economy
back on track."

Richard Charter, a longtime environmental lobbyist who now works for
the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, called the government's move "an
extremist act."

"What we see today is the political equivalent of a rock star trashing the hotel room right before checkout," he said.

The Interior Department used a lapse in the congressional moratorium
in October and a cancellation of a presidential prohibition in July to
set in motion the lease-sale program - which the incoming
administration of President-elect Barack Obama could cancel or proceed
with.

Obama has said he would consider some offshore oil drilling as part
of a comprehensive energy plan. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., Obama's pick
for interior secretary, hasn't given his views on offshore drilling in
California. He said in his confirmation hearings Thursday that he will
confer with the administration's team.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, along with the governors of Oregon and
Washington, opposes new offshore oil drilling despite the new revenue
it would offer the cash-strapped state.

The federal government has failed to make a case for a new program
because energy resources are insignificant in the Atlantic, Pacific and
eastern Gulf of Mexico, already-sold leases aren't being used, and no
protections are in place to protect the environment, the governors said.

In Friday's announcement, Interior Department officials proposed
three new lease sales, one in Northern California and two in Southern
California in "areas with known hydrocarbon potential." The proposals,
which were based on requests from seven oil companies that weren't
named, would include:

-- As many as 44 million acres of federal waters, which start 3 miles from the shoreline, off Humboldt and Mendocino counties.

-- As many as 89 million acres off of San Luis Obispo, Santa
Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Diego counties. One
lease would require equipment operating at a diagonal to drill within
the Santa Barbara Ecological Preserve. In Southern California, there
are 79 existing leases with 43 producing and 36 undeveloped.

There will be a 60-day comment period, with hearings in Ukiah, Fort
Bragg, Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Diego. Dates for the hearings
have not been announced.

If sales are allowed, they could occur as soon as 2014.

About 60 percent of California citizens who commented on new
oil-and-gas development were opposed to new drilling, according to the
Interior Department's oil-drilling agency, the Minerals and Management
Service.

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