California Officials Say No to New Offshore Drilling

SAN FRANCISCO (Dow Jones Newswires), Apr. 17, 2009

California officials expressed unanimous opposition Thursday to new offshore oil and gas drilling in a meeting U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar held to gauge public sentiment on the issue.

Opening the California coast to drilling for oil and natural gas would be an environmental and economic disaster for the state, said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. The most populous U.S. state relies on tourism, recreation and other coastal industries tied to ocean resources for $23 billion a year in revenue and 390,000 jobs, she said. The U.S. should focus on expanded development of renewable energy and energy efficiency, she said, echoing comments made by dozens of state and local officials.

"Raising fuel economy standards is a far better way to go with far better results ... than drilling in pristine areas off our coast," said Boxer, who is chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

The meeting is the last of four convened by the White House to hear from the public on whether the government should expand oil and gas production in federal waters on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf. Unlike previous meetings in Atlantic City, N.J., and other cities, the meeting in San Francisco, which attracted a few hundred local officials and environmental groups, was surprisingly peaceful and calm. But the message from nearly all who spoke was clear: no new drilling and more renewable energy.

"We want to end opportunities for oil leasing off our coast," said Karin Quimby, a representative of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, an area that currently has offshore oil drilling. She added that a "devastating oil spill" off the Santa Barbara coast in 1969 spurred a 40-year fight by the county to end offshore drilling.

Salazar said three areas are set to be put up for lease off the Pacific Coastbetween 2012 and 2015.The department is reconsidering a Bush administration decision that called for the new lease sales.

While he wouldn't say whether, where or to what extent the administration would open up federal waters to new drilling, Salazar said a decision likely will be made this year and will be part of a larger comprehensive energy plan.

"What we need to do is have a long-term framework in place" that focuses on "national security, environmental security and economic opportunity," Salazar said, speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the meeting. He added that such a plan may not necessarily be politically popular and that it shouldn't be made in response to previously high oil prices.

While Californians and other West Coast officials are opposed to offshore drilling, the issue is much more politically palatable in the states along the U.S. Gulf Coast, where the bulk of the nation's oil and gas drilling currently takes place. A 2006 government survey estimated that the U.S. Gulf also has about two thirds of untapped offshore oil and gas reserves. The Pacific coast has a little more than 10% of undiscovered reserves, the study estimated.

Oil industry representatives said the U.S. should tap all available resources to shore up domestic oil supplies to reduce dependence on foreign oil.

"There are 10 billion barrels of oil off the California coast," said Joe Sparano, president of the Western States Petroleum Association in Sacramento. "If we can produce those and bring them to market that would allow us to replace California imports for 35 years."

But the outlook for new coastal drilling in California is dim. Most officials, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, strongly oppose it.  

Copyright (c) 2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.


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