Proposed California legislation would thwart federal drilling plans

Proposed California legislation would thwart federal drilling plans
If a federal policy gets adopted, the new leases would unravel the decades-long moratorium on new offshore-drilling operations in the state. Courtesy photo

REGION — Two bills are making their way through the California Legislature in an attempt to protect the state’s coast from the Trump administration’s proposal to expand offshore drilling.

Through a draft proposal issued on Jan. 4, the U.S. Department of the Interior expressed its intention to open up more than 90 percent of the nation’s outer continental shelf to new offshore-oil and gas-drilling leases. The purpose would be to attain “energy dominance,” as stated in the proposal.

If signed into law, California Assembly Bill 1775 and Senate Bill 834 would prevent the development of new drilling infrastructure, such as platforms and pipelines, in state waters. Oil and gas extracted in federal waters would typically need to be transported through California’s waters and onto the state’s shore for processing. As such, the two bills provide a strategy for making that process difficult.

State waters extend from California’s coastline to three nautical miles offshore, while the federal government owns the seabed and its minerals from the state boundary outward for more than 200 miles.

Ashley Blacow, Pacific policy and communications manager for Oceana, believes that the bills provide what she calls “an effective barrier for preventing expanded offshore drilling by removing the pathways for oil to be transported.” The bills would not affect the continued repair or maintenance of infrastructure operating under current drilling leases in California.

The outcry to the federal government’s proposal has been loud and the resistance swift. Many governors and other politicians, environmental organizations, cities, counties, port authorities, businesses and more have written letters, signed petitions and passed resolutions.

As far as the state’s stance is concerned, Blacow said, “There’s been significant momentum and engagement to make it clear that California’s coastline is not for sale.”

If the federal policy gets adopted, the new leases would unravel the decades-long moratorium on new offshore-drilling operations in the state. No new federal leases have been granted off California’s shores since 1984, and no new state leases have been allowed since the disastrous Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969.

Furthermore, the proposal would almost completely reverse the drilling ban imposed by President Barack Obama on about 94 percent of the outer continental shelf.

The California Assembly passed AB 1775, authored by Al Muratsuchi. The bill prohibits leasing state waters for the purpose of constructing new oil and gas infrastructure related to federal leases issued after Jan. 1, 2018. North County-based Assemblymen Rocky Chávez and Brian Maienschein, both Republicans, and Democrat Todd Gloria voted yes on AB 1775. The bill is now moving through the state Senate.

The companion bill, SB 834 (Jackson, Lara), passed on the Senate floor and is now making its way through the Assembly. It prohibits the State Lands Commission or a local trustee from renewing, modifying, extending or entering into a lease agreement that would facilitate drilling in federal waters. Sen. Pat Bates, who represents parts of North County and Orange County, abstained from voting on SB 834.

The state legislation has until Aug. 31 to pass both houses, and then Gov. Jerry Brown would have one month to sign it into law.

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has made the Trump administration’s viewpoint clear that current offshore-drilling protections impede national energy production and cause billions of dollars of lost revenue. Therefore, the 2019–2024 National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Draft Proposed Program proposes 47 potential new lease sales to gas and oil companies.

Nineteen leases would be off Alaska’s coast, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, nine in the Atlantic and seven in the Pacific. Two of the Pacific leases are proposed for Southern California.

Environmentalists are concerned by an increased risk of oil spills that expanded drilling could bring. Oil spills have catastrophic effects on marine ecosystems, coastal fisheries and tourism.

Brady Bradshaw, a Southern California campaign organizer for Oceana, stated, “In every step of the process of exploratory drilling, extraction, processing and transportation, there is a likelihood of spills and leaks. The petroleum industry’s own figures indicate that the U.S. averaged more than 13 pipeline spills and 27 platform spills per year. Tankers spill even more often.”

Bradshaw further noted that California’s recreation and tourism industry “relies on a clean coast, so offshore drilling here isn’t compatible with our economy or our environment.”

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