California congressmen have appointed a bipartisan committee to negotiate a new plan for oil drilling off the state’s coast, but Interior Secretary Donald P. Hodel said Tuesday that he expects no meaningful negotiations until after Congress considers proposals to limit or ban drilling.
Hodel, commenting before he attended a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on the issue, also indicated that he may try to reach an agreement on general energy recovery objectives before proposing a list of specific tracts that he would like opened.
For example, he said, it would be useful for members of the new negotiating committee to decide how much oil should be recovered under a new plan and then to propose sites that would reach that objective.
A previous compromise plan was reached after negotiations over specific sites. Last week Hodel rejected that agreement, saying the sites would have produced too little oil.
But he maintained Tuesday that the new discussions would benefit from the previous talks, declaring: “We’re a long way from square one.”
At the Senate hearing, California Rep. Leon E. Panetta (D-Carmel Valley) said legislation to put into law a modified version of the compromise agreement will be introduced this week. If the compromise is not enacted, Panetta said, he and others will try to win an extension of what has been a four-year moratorium on drilling off most of the state’s coast.
No date has been set for new talks between the new committee and Hodel. But the Interior secretary said he believes negotiations will proceed at best “desultorily” until the legislative efforts--which he expects to fail--are over, probably in a matter of weeks.
Under questioning by members of the Senate committee, Hodel conceded that it is difficult to predict which sites will yield oil. In Alaska, for example, government and industry had predicted that certain areas would have great potential, only to learn after drilling that they were dry.
Meanwhile, California congressmen who favor offshore development, including Reps. Daniel E. Lungren (R-Long Beach) and William E. Dannemeyer (R-Fullerton), told the senators that more environmental damage is caused by spills by foreign tankers delivering imported oil than by accidents on offshore rigs.
But Lungren, whose district was targeted for additional drilling under the original agreement, said he resents attempts by other California congressmen to bar drilling off their coasts while forcing even more development on his constituents.
Congressmen from Texas and Louisiana, where there already is substantial offshore drilling, have accused Californians of selfishly putting their desire for attractive coastal views ahead of the nation’s energy interests.
But Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.) told the committee that unlike the Gulf of Mexico and the central Atlantic coasts, where the waters are shallow and rigs can be placed miles from shore, California’s underwater coast falls off sharply. As a result, he said, oil companies want to drill closer to shore.
“Do not think we are aesthetic elitists asserting a special privilege,” he said.
The new negotiating team will consist of eight California Democrats, eight Republicans, Wilson and Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.).
Appointed by the Democratic delegation were Panetta, Anthony C. Beilenson of Los Angeles, Mel Levine of Santa Monica, Barbara Boxer of Greenbrae, Douglas H. Bosco of Occidental, Tom Lantos of San Mateo, Sala Burton of San Francisco and Vic Fazio of Sacramento.
The Republican side will include Lungren, Dannemeyer, Robert E. Badham of Newport Beach, Bill Lowery of San Diego, Ron Packard of Carlsbad, Robert J. Lagomarsino of Ventura and William M. Thomas of Bakersfield. An eighth member has not yet been appointed.