The Dangers of Offshore Oil Drilling

The possible leasing of oil properties off the Orange County coast is raising many valid points of concern. However, there is one major hidden problem that surfaces only after the platforms are built, and this leaves the onshore communities mired in a giant “Catch-22" with two federal agencies that have opposing directives restricting the quality of life and the potential for economic growth of inland communities.

Only those who have lived with offshore oil have seen this sleeping “paper dragon” raise its ugly head.

Offshore oil is under the regulatory authority of the U.S. Department of the Interior. The department does not impose strict emission standards on offshore rigs. The multiplicity of diesel-powered electric generators, vents, tankers and assorted miscellaneous sources of hydrocarbons adds up quickly.

As a specific example, the environmental assessment done for Lease Sale 68 pointed out that emissions from full-scale production of the lease would be equivalent to the emissions from a city the size of Oxnard (population 120,000).


But while the Interior Department allows these emissions to go unchecked, the Environmental Protection Agency includes them in its measurements of air quality attainment. Measurements of air quality attainment are made on an air quality district basis.

A local area’s score card of how well it is doing in meeting standards set by the Clean Air Act takes in all sources of pollution, even if caused by sources outside the jurisdiction of that locality.

The environmental agency can impose industrial and/or population growth controls by limiting building permits and withholding grant funds to force compliance with the standards of the Clean Air Act if air quality worsens due to unregulated offshore drilling enough to keep the county from meeting the 1987 Clean Air Act standards.

Therefore, what happens offshore today can strangle growth and development in Orange County tomorrow.


It is this very aspect of the dichotomy between federal agencies that poses the greatest threat to the future of all coastal counties in California (or wherever else there is offshore drilling.) The largest frustration faced by developers, industrialists and local government comes from this overlapping federal jurisdiction.

As former planning director for Venture County, where the leases have been the major air quality issue since 1976, these insights are based upon years of fighting “paper dragons.”