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Hodel Says He Can’t Yet Draft Acceptable Oil Leasing Plan : Unsettled Issues Stand in Way of Offshore Accord

(UPI)

A new offshore leasing plan for California has been stalled by unresolved conflicts, including the threat of air pollution, Interior Secretary Donald P. Hodel said today.

Another plan containing a new set of tracts proposed for oil drilling had been expected this week, but Hodel said he cannot produce an acceptable plan yet.

“I don’t think I ought to come up with a plan because if I do, it won’t work,” Hodel told a reporter shortly before testifying for a Senate Energy subcommittee.

Hodel backed out of a tentative agreement reached in July with a segment of the California congressional delegation that proposed offering 150 offshore tracts after he learned the oil industry found them undesirable.

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Goals Need to Be Set

He said that before drafting a new agreement, it is necessary to determine the program’s goals, such as how much oil should be retrieved, and what to do if exploration revealed an insufficient supply.

Hodel compared the standoff to “a volatile domestic relations squabble” between those who favor exploration and drilling and those who oppose it.

Responding to questioning by Chairman James A. McClure (R-Ida.), Hodel said environmentally safe drilling could be done on California’s Outer Continental Shelf.

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Only two basic issues stand in the way, he said--meeting California’s air quality standards and coping with “political pressure” over oil rigs obstructing the view from shore.

Air Quality Dispute

The Interior Department is negotiating with the state of California in an effort to resolve a dispute over air quality standards for offshore and onshore oil drilling activities.

Rep. Leon E. Panetta (D-Carmel Valley), who led the legislative group that produced the July agreement, told the panel he is “willing to try to work with (Hodel) again to see if we can reach a solution.”

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Panetta and Hodel disagree over who picked the 150 tracts that were determined to be commercially worthless, and whether the agreement was “a deal” or just a blueprint.

Coastal Impact Probed

Energy Committee members questioned several panels of witnesses from Congress, the oil industry and environmental groups to determine the impact on the coast and the nation’s energy supply with and without an offshore program.

Sen. J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.) said the committee must decide whether the opposition was politically based because of view obstruction or if there were real environmental threats.

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If oil drilling will not hurt the environment, Johnston said, “with the exception of the crown jewels"--Big Sur, the Farallon Islands, Santa Barbara Marine Sanctuary, Point Reyes and other exempt areas--"we ought to go ahead and drill.”


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