Oil Drilling Off O.C. Coast

Reflecting the general feeling of the community, the Orange County Board of Supervisors has adopted a resolution opposing drilling for offshore oil and gas in federal waters off Orange County.

The resolution was presented last Wednesday to a presidential task force workshop that was in Los Angeles gathering local input on offshore oil development. It also specifically opposes the proposed Lease Sale 95, which would open to oil company prospecting the coastal waters from Santa Barbara to Mexico. The county board and other coastal jurisdictions believe the impacts and risks associated with the proposed offshore oil and gas drilling “significantly outweigh the limited benefits.” Facts give their argument weight.

Offshore drilling will increase air pollution for the sake of making available amounts of oil that the nation would consume in 76 hours. There are other concerns, like oil spills and the movement of highly toxic byproducts on the county roads.

The risks are real and must be seriously weighed by the task force created by President Bush to evaluate the impact the granting of the proposed drilling leases would have on the sensitive coastal environment. A risk that we do not think is real is raised by a Virginia-based consultant with respect to Orange County tourism.


The consultant concluded that: “Perhaps the greatest effects can be expected to be registered in the tourism and recreation industries.” The annual loss to tourism was estimated as high as $223 million, more than a third of the direct revenues attributed annually to tourism in the coastal communities.

It is at best difficult to quantify such a subjective issue. Officials in Santa Barbara County, which has had offshore drilling operations for many years, say they can’t see any difference in tourism because of the offshore platforms. It is hard to imagine a family deciding not to visit Orange County, or the coastal area specifically, because there were drilling platforms three or more miles offshore. The county’s heavy traffic is more of a tourist turnoff.

More important than what offshore oil drilling might mean to tourism is how it would affect the county’s air quality. And Orange County’s best argument against drilling in federal waters off its coast remains that the minimal amount of oil that is likely to be recovered cannot possibly justify the threat that drilling could pose to the county’s environment.