Agency to Hold 2 Hearings on Controversial Offshore Oil Leases

Times Staff Writer

Federal officials announced Monday that they will hold two public meetings in North County during the coming months on a proposal to lease sea-bottom tracts for offshore oil drilling.

J. Lisle Reed, regional director of the U. S. Minerals Management Service, said his agency will hold an information workshop by March, then a full-blown hearing in the early summer after an environmental review of the plan is completed.

North County officials welcomed the news of the public meetings, which were announced during a press conference at Oceanside City Hall after a private, hourlong meeting between Minerals Management officials and local leaders.

Oceanside Mayor Larry Bagley said he believes the hearings will give San Diego County residents a ready opportunity to express their opposition to the federal push to lease tracts off the Southern California coast, in particular the 17 near-shore parcels stretching from Camp Pendleton to Carlsbad.


“We want the federal government to know, loudly and clearly, what the people of San Diego have to say about offshore oil,” Bagley declared in an interview after the press conference. “That might not have an impact on Minerals Management, but the echoes may get back to Congress.”

Locals’ Concerns

Reed said officials of the Minerals Management Service, a branch of the Department of the Interior, plan to “bend over backward” to take into consideration the concerns of local residents. He noted, however, that, although “public opinion weighs” in the agency’s effort to decide the leasing issue, those concerns have to be “supported by fact.”

Although Reed could not say exactly what tack the government will take on the issue when the new administration of President-elect George Bush is installed, he talked as if the effort to pursue the offshore leases will proceed full-speed ahead.

During the half-hour press conference, Reed outlined a scenario for the development of the 17 near-shore tracts off the North County coast, which are among 1,300 being offered as part of a massive oil-lease sale stretching from San Luis Obispo to the Mexican border.

If all goes without a glitch, the government will not be able to offer tracts for lease until the spring or summer of 1990, and then it will be “a couple years” before oil companies can begin work, Reed said.

2000 Platform Date

Between 1992 and ’94, an oil-drilling ship might then be dispatched to area waters to do exploratory drilling for two to three months at a time, he said. If sufficient quantities of oil are discovered to warrant full-scale drilling, an oil firm would have to submit a development plan to authorities and receive approvals, a process that usually takes three to four years, Reed said.

“You might see a platform there around the year 2000,” Reed said, adding that he does not foresee “much of an opportunity for more than one or two platforms” about 6 to 8 miles off Oceanside. At that distance, the platform would be “difficult to distinguish from a ship,” he said.

Despite such assurances, Bagley and other San Diego County officials are not about to concede the battle over the lease proposal. In particular, concerns about air pollution may be “the strongest currency we’ve got” in the effort, Bagley said.

Many local officials plan to demand that emissions from oil platforms meet California clean-air standards, which are more strict than federal regulations.

“To meet the state standards, I can see a situation where it would be so darn expensive they couldn’t even drill,” Bagley said.

Bagley said he was pleased that local authorities have “established a sense of dialogue” with Reed’s office, commenting that, “if, in fact, the federal government does allow drilling, we want to do everything possible to ensure that we don’t have oil spills, that we don’t feel the impacts of air pollution, that we don’t have onshore facilities.”