Ventura County supervisors Tuesday waded into the controversy over oil and gas drilling in the county’s backcountry and off its coast by opposing the Bush administration’s energy-development plans.
Although the board has no say in a decision, it made clear its opposition to administration plans to make leases available in Los Padres National Forest, which straddles Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.
Supervisor Steve Bennett, who asked his colleagues to take a position, said it’s important to let federal policymakers know that local officials support conservation as a way of dealing with diminishing oil supplies at home and abroad.
“Don’t put the environment at risk just because we lack the political will to increase fuel-efficiency standards,” Bennett said.
The board voted 4 to 1 to outline its opposition in a letter to the U.S. Forest Service.
Most of Tuesday’s debate dealt with forest-drilling proposals, but the vote included the board’s opposition to expanding oil-drilling operations off the Ventura County coast.
Its action comes a week after California Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer filed an appeal of a July decision by Los Padres National Forest Supervisor Gloria Brown to open up leases in the forest.
Under the proposal, 4,277 acres would be available for drilling leases, about one-half of 1% of the 767,000 acres being considered for energy development.
The use of slant-drilling technology would minimize the surface impact of operations to 21 acres, according to the Forest Service.
Although the area being opened up is relatively small, expanded drilling could follow, Bennett said.
Supervisors also questioned whether the risks of oil spills and industrial pollution on wildlife outweigh expected benefits.
If all the leases were opened, the Forest Service estimates the drilling would produce 17 million barrels of oil.
That output is barely enough to supply one day’s worth of consumption in the United States, board Chairwoman Kathy Long said.
“It’s not a good cost-benefit return in my opinion,” Long said.
The board’s lone dissenter, Judy Mikels, said she sympathized with the board’s environmental concerns. But adopting a blanket rejection of drilling is “sticking your head in the sand,” she said.
“We are unreasonably tying our own hands in the production of oil and gas that we need to use,” Mikels said.
Mikels also objected to the board stepping into what is essentially a federal decision.
“This is federal policy,” she said. “We have no direct impact on this.”
The other supervisors, however, said they hoped to exert influence on the process.
“All politics is local,” Supervisor John Flynn said. “We need to discuss these things, especially when this administration is not moving in a positive way on conservation.”