Environmental Groups Upset With New Federal Plan To Open Central, South Coasts To Oil And Gas Leases

Jan 5, 2018

The environmental community is outraged over the Trump Administration’s proposal to open wide swaths of federal waters off the nation’s coastline to new oil and gas development, a plan which includes the Central and South Coasts.

Linda Krop is Chief Counsel with the Santa Barbara based Environmental Defense Center, which has had a leading role in fighting oil and gas development on the Central and South Coast for decades. Krop says what’s especially frustrating is that the efforts of environmental groups, state and local governments, and the public have actually reduced the number of leases over the decades.

There are about 20 platforms off the coast, and 40 existing leases. But, another 40 leases were terminated thanks to lawsuits. Now, Krop worries the Trump Administration could put some of the once cleared areas back into play for development.

Many people cite a disastrous 1969 oil rig blowout in the Santa Barbara Channel as the spark which ignited the modern day environmental movement. But, Krop says you only have to go back three years for the most recent example of an oil related environmental disaster in Santa Barbara County. In 2015, a pipeline break at Refugio State Beach dumped more than 140,000 gallons of oil onto the beach, and coastline.

The Trump Administration’s plan action is especially frustrating for groups which have opposed oil development for years, because battles they thought they won years ago may now have to be re-fought. Carla Frisk is a member of the board of “Get Oil Out,” a group founded in Santa Barbara in the wake of the 1969 spill. She says it feels like they are going backwards.

But, the Trump Administration’s proposal is just that, a proposal, and far from a done deal. The Environmental Defense Center’s Lind Krop says the plan has to go through what could be a years long public review process, with opportunities for the public, environmental groups, the state, and local governments to make their opposition known.

And, Krop points out that even if new leases are created in federal waters off the Central and South Coasts, the state and local governments may still be able to block development. The new leases would potentially need pipelines, and other onshore facilities to handle oil and gas from the platforms.

The Western States Petroleum Association, which represents the oil industry, declined an interview request from KCLU News. It issued a written statement saying that its members produce energy in the most environmentally safe and sound way under the most stringent regulatory environment in the world. WSPA says the state could become more energy independent, noting that California imports more than a million barrels of oil a day by supertanker. The statement says comprehensive rules and regulations make it possible for offshore oil and gas to be produced safely.