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Santa Barbara offshore drilling ban fails

"We should not be drilling for oil in our equivalent of the Amazon rain forest," Williams said.

Legislation to slap a permanent ban on oil drilling in state waters off Santa Barbara died in the Assembly on Tuesday evening.

Facing strong lobbying from the oil industry, the bill, SB 1096 by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), couldn't get close to the minimum 41 votes needed to pass. The final tally was 28 to 34.

In presenting the measure, Assemblyman Das Williams (D-Santa Barbara) argued that colleagues should give him their support because of the importance of protecting his district's fragile coastline. Parts of the same Santa Barbara County coast were devastated by an oil spill 45 years ago.

"We should not be drilling for oil in our equivalent of the Amazon rain forest," Williams said. He also stressed that because of peculiarities of a 1994 marine sanctuary law, state waters off Vandenberg Air Force Base are the only spot on California's entire coastline that could be targeted for new oil production.

Defeat of the Jackson bill was crucial to the plans of Bob Nunn, a Northern California oilman, who wants to drill from the land on Air Force property under the ocean to access oil in a field known as Tranquillon Ridge.

The deposit currently is being siphoned by an offshore platform in federal waters beyond the three-mile-from-shore limit for state tide lands.

By passing the bill, Jackson had hoped to sideline Nunn's project by closing what she called a loophole in state law.

Lawmakers who spoke in opposition said they saw no need to change current procedures that designate the State Lands Commission as the authority to approve new offshore oil drilling leases.

Nunn's company, Sunset Exploration Inc., and its partner Exxon Mobil Corp. still must gain permission from a number of government agencies, including the California Coastal Commission, the Air Force and the Lands Commission.

marc.lifsher@latimes.com

Twitter: @MarcLifsher

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