Coastal Oil Drilling Rig Estimate Raised : U.S. Report Envisions 24 Platforms Along State's Northern Shore

Associated Press

A new report prepared by the Interior Department as part of a national energy plan says as many as two dozen oil-drilling platforms could be built off the Mendocino and Humboldt coastlines, eight times an earlier estimate, according to a published report.

In its Sunday editions, the San Francisco Examiner said the department's latest draft environmental impact report on oil exploration off the Northern California coast cited "optimistic judgment" for its forecast of up to 24 platforms in the scenic coastal areas.

The "best professional judgment" places the number at 14, the newspaper said. All but four of the structures would be off the Mendocino Coast.

Basis of Estimates

So far, 13 oil platforms have been built in federal and state waters off Santa Barbara County.

William Grant, regional manager of the Interior Department's Minerals Management Services in Los Angeles, said the Mendocino platform estimate was increased from a previous level because of a review of new drilling in Central California, which has similar geologic formations.

"At this stage of the leasing/development process," the Interior report said, "it is still possible that commercial volumes of oil and gas resources may be found anywhere or nowhere within the proposed sale area. It will not be possible to know for certain if, how much, and where any resources are found until actual exploration drilling occurs."

Federal lease sales for up to 1.1 million acres between 3 and 27 miles offshore of Mendocino and Humboldt counties will begin in February, 1989, with exploratory drilling possibly starting as soon as 1990.

Interior officials have developed a proposal to open 6.5 million acres off the California coast for oil and gas exploration in the next five years.

Visible From Towns

The Interior Department report said platforms would be visible from the towns of Mendocino, Albion and Point Arena, and from the southern portions of the Kings Range.

Many operators of Mendocino businesses have been hard hit by the news.

"I felt like someone kicked me in the stomach when I saw the map," said inn keeper Rachel Binah.

She and 25 other inn keepers have mailed letters to former guests and have offered discount rates if the guests will testify at February hearings on the report.

Dick Harris, spokesman for Chevron USA, cautioned that environmental impact statements about oil potential are so speculative that "they tend to be useless."

The Interior report said if the full 24 platforms were built and development reached the predicted maximum potential, up to 240 new oil tanker trips would be made from Fort Bragg and Eureka to San Francisco Bay-area refineries.

Panel Is Opposed

The California Coastal Commission opposes oil exploration off the Mendocino coast, calling it inconsistent with state plans. It cannot stop lease sales, but can stop individual exploration projects.

The draft impact report also said crude oil from the North Coast region would be processed in offshore "factories" on platforms or ships.

In addition, it said the probability of one or more spills involving 1,000 barrels or more--should commercial quantities of hydrocarbons be found--is 94%. The probability is 72% for spills of 10,000 barrels or more.

Marine and coastal birds facing the highest risks would be those in areas such as the Gulf of Farallones, the report said.

Rep. Barbara Boxer (D-Greeenbrae) and U.S. Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) have introduced legislation to declare Northern California an ocean sanctuary safeguarded from oil and gas development, toxic waste disposal and mining.

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