ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE : Park Pact Aids Chevron, City

The oil derricks that pump along Pacific Coast Highway in Huntington Beach have always seemed strangely out of place along the lovely shoreline. But they are especially so these days for a city trying to polish its image as a tourism and convention site after last month's offshore oil spill.

But an agreement just announced between the city and Chevron USA, a company whose derricks are near where workers had to mop up British Petroleum's oil after the spill, is certain to polish the city's oceanfront facade. It will result in the capping of 25 oil wells and the removal of derrick equipment to make way for a bluff-top park.

Parks before oil derricks--now there's an image that fits in the environmentally conscious 1990s. The agreement scores a public relations point for Chevron and also strikes a good deal for the oil company, which retains the rights to do slant drilling at some unspecified future date and gets the city to contribute up to $650,000 of the cost of the closure.

It may be true that the more than $1 million worth of oil the company says remains untapped is a relatively insignificant amount. But the gesture is a positive step, nonetheless, because it works for the city's benefit. What Huntington Beach must be careful to do is use its power of planning and regulation wisely later on--when and if the oil company exercises its option to put in directionally drilled wells.

In the meantime, Huntington Beach will get its park, and remove some of the concerns about safety that have accompanied pedestrian traffic near the wells. The city's efforts to close a similar deal with Shell Oil Co., which still has four wells operating in the area, should be made easier by the Chevron agreement. In the process, Huntington Beach is demonstrating for other cities in the Los Angeles basin with active oil fields that there are creative ways to balance land use with the presence of oil reserves.

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