Supervisors Split Over Oil Drilling : Rift Develops in Board’s Opposition to Offshore Tracts
The Orange County Board of Supervisors split Tuesday on its opposition to offshore oil drilling, with two of the five members insisting the county should oppose all drilling off the California coast, not just in waters off Orange County.
After a series of rancorous exchanges, Supervisor Harriett Wieder agreed to testify before a House of Representatives subcommittee Wednesday in Washington, not as a representative of the supervisors but as a member of two groups dealing with air quality.
Wieder sought board endorsement of her position in opposition to leasing off Orange County. Supervisor Bruce Nestande said that if Wieder appeared as a representative of Orange County, he wanted her to reflect opposition to drilling anywhere off the California coast.
“I don’t like the idea of going up and down the coast and pitting one community against another,” with each county trying to avoid having oil platforms off its coast, Nestande said.
‘Shooting From the Hip’
Wieder said that Nestande was “shooting from the hip” in his attempt to get the supervisors to pass a new resolution on the controversy without first discussing it with colleagues on the board.
“I’ve given this (issue) as much thought as you have,” Nestande retorted.
Nestande and Supervisor Roger Stanton were absent on July 24 when Wieder and Supervisors Thomas F. Riley and Ralph Clark voted 3 to 0 to oppose the July compromise between Interior Secretary Donald P. Hodel and a group of California legislators that would open parts of the ocean off California to oil exploration.
Under the agreement, 150 tracts of ocean floor, each nine square miles, would be open for oil exploration, while an additional 6,310 tracts would remain closed for the next 15 years.
Most of the tracts where drilling could take place are in Northern California, but six tracts are off Newport Beach.
Set Off an Uproar
The announcement of the compromise set off an uproar in Orange County, with coastal residents opposing any drilling on the grounds that it would hurt tourism and possibly increase pollution.
Hodel heard the complaints in person on Aug. 31 at a hearing in Newport Beach, where the protesters included Riley, Nestande and Wieder.
Wieder told the supervisors that her Washington testimony would balance that of Gary Patton, chairman of the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors, who supports the compromise.
She said the California congress men, most of them Democrats, who worked out the agreement with Hodel “negotiated a compromise that dumps on Orange County.”
In the testimony prepared for delivery Wednesday before the House subcommittee on the Panama Canal and the Outer Continental Shelf, Wieder said that offshore drilling would further harm Southern California’s “very fragile air-quality system.”
Increase in Air Pollution
Wieder, who is a member of the California Air Resources Board and the South Coast Air Quality Management District, said the Interior Department’s own environmental impact statement last year reported that developing oil and gas resources in the area proposed for drilling could cause increases in the concentration of ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter in the air.
Clark agreed with Nestande that the board should oppose drilling along the entire coast of California. But Riley and Stanton indicated that they wanted more time to consider the whole issue, and Nestande ultimately postponed his attempt to get the board to vote for a complete ban after Wieder agreed not to identify herself as a representative of Orange County at the Washington hearing.