Oil Industry Loses Round in Offshore Drilling Lawsuit

Times Staff Writer

A federal judge has dismissed most of the claims in a major suit brought by the oil industry against 13 California cities and counties that have attempted to control or prohibit offshore oil development.

In a decision made public on Monday but handed down last Thursday, U.S. District Judge Consuelo B. Marshall said there was no basis to industry claims that the local ordinances violated federal supremacy. However, the court said it was possible that ordinances in San Diego, Oceanside and San Diego County might violate the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution.

But, the court said further examination of the evidence would be necessary before it could make a finding in those three cases.


Extent of Suit

The suit was brought last August by the Western Oil and Gas Assn. and National Ocean Industries Assn. against the counties of San Diego, Sonoma, San Mateo, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Cruz, the city and county of San Francisco, and the cities of Monterey, Morro Bay, Oceanside, San Diego, San Luis Obispo and Santa Cruz.

The oil and gas association warned at the time that the ordinances would “create a wall from the Mexican border to the Oregon state line blocking development of oil in the outer continental shelf.” It said the local ordinances would thwart oil and gas development in federal waters by placing severe restrictions and prohibitions on onshore support facilities, such as pipelines, storage tanks and processing plants.

But Marshall wrote, “Upon examination of the complaint, there is no allegation of impossibility to the continuance of offshore drilling, only additional expense and inconvenience. Therefore, the ordinances are not true obstacles to the accomplishment of the federal purpose.”

In San Francisco, the Natural Resources Defense Council, which was an intervener in the case, hailed the decision. “We are very pleased that the judge has recognized the authority of local governments to control land-uses within their jurisdictions. By implication, the judge has recognized they (local governments) have good reason to be concerned about the impacts and effects onshore facilities can have on the quality of their environments,” said senior attorney Johanna Wald.

Western Oil and Gas Assn. spokesman Robert Getts said Monday that the association is assessing the decision and has not decided whether to appeal.

At the time the suit was filed, local officials--backed by the State Lands Commission--charged that it was an “outrageous” attack on what they said was their constitutional right to decide for themselves how to respond to projects that have an economic and environmental effect on their communities.


“The underlying point is we own the beachhead and we’re going to fight them off,” San Diego County Supervisor Susan Golding said last August.