Conservation Groups Slam Trump Plan to Drill Off California Coast

California could see more drilling rigs such as the Gail off of Santa Barbara in coming years, now that the feds are planning to reopen 98 percent of federal waters to drilling. Photo Credit: BOEM-OPA

Suzanne Potter
California News Service

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Staggering. Extreme. Radical. Dangerous. That’s how conservation groups are describing the Trump administration’s decision to open up 98 percent of U.S. federal waters to oil and gas drilling.

The new draft five-year plan includes 47 lease sales – the largest number in history – in waters off the entire California coast, the Gulf of Mexico, the East Coast and Alaska. Sales are planned in Southern California in 2020 and 2022, and in Northern and Central California in 2021 and 2023.

Blake Kopcho, oceans campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity, says the first lease sale in the Golden State may very well be off the coast of Santa Barbara.

“Industry is most interested in drilling more in the Santa Barbara Channel because that’s where oil deposits are, but it’s also where they have fossil-fuel infrastructure set up to drill and process the oil as well,” he says.

There hasn’t been an offshore lease sale in federal waters since 1984, and in state waters since the sixties.

Santa Barbara suffered a major oil spill in 1969 and a smaller one in 2015 when a pipeline serving existing wells burst. A 60-day public comment period on will begin next week, and a public hearing is set for February 8 in Sacramento.

The plan is separate from the recent decision to lift safety regulations put in place after the Deepwater Horizon spill.

Eric Grafe, staff attorney with Earthjustice, says oil spills are inevitable and calls this a giveaway to the oil and gas industry at the expense of the tourist economy and the environment.

“And you can’t clean up oil if it spills, even in good conditions,” Grafe says. “And even without an oil spill, the noise and the disturbance harms marine life, in particular, whales and other marine mammals that depend on hearing and sound to navigate their world.”

Grafe also notes that this move will encourage dependence on fossil fuels for decades to come and thus put the U-S behind in the battle against climate change.

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