Task Force Gets Cautious Approval for Offshore Oil

Ventura County public officials told a federal task force this week that they favor continuing offshore oil leasing despite a proposed congressional moratorium and the concerns of other communities along the California coast.

"We do not oppose responsible oil and gas development as long as the activity is conducted in an environmentally sound fashion," Susan Lacey, chairman of the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, testified during a hearing in Santa Barbara. The comments were made to a task force created by President Bush in February to recommend ways to allow more oil development acceptable to coastal communities.

Task force members from six federal agencies were buffeted by testimony for 10 hours Monday, mostly by critics of present policies. The loudest cheer came from the audience when one opponent told President Bush to read her lips: "No new oil drilling."

Boards of supervisors from Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties argued that leasing should not resume unless the Bush Administration creates a national energy policy that emphasizes conservation and alternative fuels, weighed against the risks of oil spills, tanker accidents and increased air pollution off the California coast.

While Ventura County supervisors support the call for a national energy policy, they do not believe that offshore operations should be halted while the policy is developed, Lacey said.

Lagomarsino Comments

Rep. Robert J. Lagomarsino (R-Ojai), whose district includes portions of Santa Barbara County, argued that a moratorium on leasing would increase industry pressure along the Ventura and Santa Barbara coasts, where a number of oil tracts have been leased but not developed.

If leasing is stopped, "it leaves Santa Barbara and Ventura to bear the full burden of continued and future development," Lagomarsino said.

The pro-oil California Energy Service and Supply Assn., largely made up of oil industry-related businesses, "wholeheartedly supports alternative sources of energy and conservation," said its president, Zella Rushing of H&H; Tool Co. But leasing should continue "because we can't turn the spigots on in a year; it takes eight to 12 years from the time you start searching for offshore resources until they are available for our homes, cars, trucks and fishing boats," Rushing said.

There are four active platforms in federal waters off Ventura's coast, and under tracts already leased, Chevron proposes two more in the Point Mugu area and one off Pitas Point in the mid-1990s. A proposed lease sale, known as No. 95, would offer tracts covering 6.7 million acres from San Luis Obispo to the Mexican border and would at least double potential development off Ventura's coast.

Leases First Step

Leases are the first step toward development, giving oil and gas companies the right to explore and, if oil or gas is found, to extract the resource subject to permits. Local governments do not enjoy federal income from the leases, but some kind of revenue sharing is a possible recommendation of the task force, Bill Harris of Chevron said in an interview. He said the industry generally supports the idea.

The task force faces opposition despite such incentives, due in part to a nationwide backlash against oil development stemming from the Exxon Valdez spill, and three others off Rhode Island, Delaware and Texas.

And on June 29, a House subcommittee approved a moratorium delaying lease sales until at least October, 1990, along the whole California coast, Alaska's Bristol Bay and huge blocks off the Eastern Seaboard.

Interior Department spokesman Steve Goldstein has said the task force will continue even if the panel's moratorium is approved by the House and Senate.

During breaks in the hearing, lease supporters from the California energy group and opponents, sponsored by Get Oil Out!, held dueling demonstrations.

California Energy bused in more than 100 supporters from Ventura, San Luis Obispo and Kern counties. The supporters, waving American flags and sporting pro-oil T-shirts, argued that delays in leasing will cost California hundreds of jobs and increase energy costs, hitting senior citizens, the poor and small businesses the most.

GOO!'s counter-rally featured opponents dressed as oily birds and sea life. Sculptor Bud Bottoms urged local citizens to keep fighting as they had after "the spill heard 'round the world" when Union's Platform A suffered a blowout off the Santa Barbara-Ventura coast in 1969. "We became the model of those who stood up to the Goliath oil companies," he said.

Other testimony at the hearing included:

A 10-point plan advanced by Santa Barbara supervisors calling for a lease moratorium until a national energy policy is in place. The policy should emphasize alternative and renewable energy sources, permanent oil-free sanctuaries near sensitive areas, transport by pipeline instead of tankers, phasing exploration and development, tougher offshore air quality rules and reducing risks of accidents.

Recommendations from oil industry spokesmen and environmentalists alike for the federal government to share the income from leases with local communities. Failure of all levels of government to agree on sharing of benefits from offshore leasing "has burdened the resource producers with the cost of solving everyone's problems through project mitigations," said Richard Ranger, an Arco spokesman.

Calls for more participation by businesses and citizens affected by the selection of tracts to be offered for lease. For instance, commercial fisherman Jody Giannini said his industry has no say in platform placement, which could close off important fishing grounds.

Hearing Called 'Fitting'

Task force chairman Robert Kallman, a former Santa Barbara supervisor and former official in the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service, said the hearing "was really successful and a fitting climax." It was the last of a series of hearings by the task force in California and Florida.

Task force members stayed another two days touring oil operations in Santa Barbara County and taking a trip to the Channel Islands from Ventura.

Seeing the beauty of the area "will probably be the most important testimony for them to bring back to Washington," said Santa Barbara Supervisor Toru Miyoshi. Members will see the area as "a national resource that needs to be protected," he said.

Written testimony will be accepted up to July 25, addressed to the President's OCS Leasing and Development Task Force, Washington 20240.

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