Carlsbad Puts Brakes on Big Oil
The city of Carlsbad put out the unwelcome mat Tuesday for the oil industry in the form of an ordinance that will make it nearly impossible for businesses related to offshore oil drilling to locate there.
The Carlsbad prohibition on on-shore oil- and natural gas-support facilities differs from similar measures enacted by San Diego County and the cities of San Diego and Oceanside in that it is not an outright ban. On the advice of the city attorney, the Carlsbad ordinance seeks to protect itself from legal action by oil companies by leaving oil-related businesses a slim possibility of establishing themselves in the city.
The action was sparked by the federal government’s moves last year to open up Lease Sale 95 off the North County coast for oil drilling. In July, Congress approved a one-year moratorium on drilling off of much of the U.S. coastline, including a moratorium in California on any “pre-leasing” activities leading up to the sale of oil drilling leases until Oct. 1, 1990.
Pressure on President
Carlsbad city officials, along with representatives of many other coastal cities, have traveled to Washington to urge the President to make the ban permanent. But, if and when the moratorium is called off, Carlsbad intends to be ready to make the city inhospitable to oil companies.
Among the restricted businesses are oil- and gas-processing plants, refineries, storage facilities, transfer stations, pipelines, warehouses, offices, tanker terminals and helicopter pads. No such facilities now exist in Carlsbad.
“We realize there is not much we can do about offshore drilling besides lobby Washington,” Councilman Eric Larson said before Tuesday’s council meeting. “So we’ve decided the part we can play in this is by banning those on-shore facilities that would make drilling possible.”
“We wanted to make it as strong as we possibly could, but we also wanted to make it lawful,” Councilwoman Ann Kulchin added. “It does no good to have an ordinance full of flowery prose if it can’t stand up in court. The way it’s written, it’s tough, it’s tight, and we won’t get sued.”
The ordinance, unanimously approved by the council at Tuesday’s meeting, amends six local coastal plans and Carlsbad’s General Plan and zoning codes. Under the law, oil- and gas-support facilities will be permitted only if the council makes six findings in favor of the proposed business:
- That it will pose no danger to the life and property of the city’s residents.
- That it will not pose a potential threat of damage or injuries to the residents.
- That the benefits of the proposed project clearly outweigh the possible adverse environmental effects.
- That there are no feasible alternatives.
- That the location of the facilities at the particular location clearly outweigh any potential harm to public health, safety, peace, morals, comfort and general welfare of people residing or working in the community, and will not be detrimental to property or the general welfare of the city.
- The facility must be located only in zones specifically designated for industrial use.
With those conditions in place, the current strong anti-oil drilling sentiment among the council members and the fact that very little of the city is zoned for industrial use make it all but impossible for any oil-supporting facility to successfully locate in Carlsbad.
Oceanside and San Diego city and county, which enacted total bans on on-shore oil facilities, were sued by the Western Oil & Gas Assn. in 1987. The lawsuit, brought against 13 cities and counties in California, claimed that the municipalities’ laws banning on-shore oil facilities violates the supremacy of the federal government embodied in the U. S. Constitution and threatens the nation’s energy security.
The lawsuit was partially resolved in favor of the cities last year when a federal judge ruled that there was no basis to the oil industry claims that the local ordinances violate federal supremacy. U.S. District Judge Consuelo B. Marshall said the majority of the ordinances might cause oil companies additional expense and inconvenience, but are not “true obstacles to the accomplishment of the federal purpose.”
However, Marshall said it is possible that the ordinances in San Diego, Oceanside and San Diego County might violate the commerce clause of the U. S. Constitution. The case is being appealed.
Carlsbad City Atty. Vincent Biondo said he will be watching the court’s decision, and, if the cities prevail, he will recommend that Carlsbad amend its law to impose a total ban of on-shore oil support facilities. Meanwhile, Biondo expects the oil companies not to bother to attack Carlsbad for its watered-down version. “We would hope they would continue to pursue the existing cases as the best and most expeditious way of determining what cities can and can’t do,” Biondo said.
“But,” he added, “if the oil companies want to litigate, I suppose that’s what we’ll have to do. The protection of our citizens is our first concern.”
Robert Kallman, executive director of the President’s task force on oil drilling, said Tuesday that the city of Carlsbad is within its jurisdiction to enact the ordinance. “I recognize the concerns of local government, and it’s certainly their prerogative to do that,” he said in an interview from his Washington office.
Nine public forums conducted in recent months by task force members throughout the state “have already exposed us to the overwhelming negative feeling of the public on this issue,” Kallman said.
But the actions of local governments that ban on-shore oil facilities will have no effect on the task force’s recommendations to President Bush, due Jan. 1, on the feasibility of drilling off the California coast, he said. “We’re not looking at the industry viewpoint, we’re looking at the environmental consequences,” Kallman said.