State Senate votes to ban new oil drilling off Santa Barbara County

oil drilling

Oil recovery and cleanup vessels ply the waters off of El Capitan State Beach near Santa Barbara on May 21, 2015. An oil drilling rig in the Santa Barbara Channel is on the horizon, left.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Two weeks after an oil spill off Refugio State Beach, the state Senate on Wednesday approved legislation that would ban new offshore oil drilling from a nearby area in the Santa Barbara Channel known as Tranquillon Ridge.

Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) said the targeted area is designated as a Marine Protected Area so the state should not risk oil spills by allowing drilling.

However, because of the way the 1994 marine sanctuary law is written, state waters off Vandenberg Air Force Base are the only ones on California’s entire coastline that could be targeted for new oil production.

“One of the reasons that we should be weaning ourselves off oil is we know as long as you drill there will be spills,” Jackson said. She added it does not stop production on the 30-some existing oil rigs off the California coast. “It just says we are done with developing new oil.”


State Sen. Jeff Stone (R-Murrieta) opposed the bill, saying it will cost the state millions of dollars in potential revenue as well as new oil industry jobs. “This bill, I think, sends the wrong message about oil and gas production in our state,” he said. While he said green energy should be pursued, “Oil and gas are still an important part of the equation” for meeting the state’s energy needs.

The party line vote to approve SB 788 and send it to the Assembly for consideration was 21-13.

The legislation was introduced before a May 19 leak from an oil pipeline that released 101,000 gallons of crude at Refugio State Beach, including 21,000 gallons that flowed into the Pacific Ocean.

However, Jackson and Sen, Mike McGuire (D-San Rafael), the bill’s co-author, cited the recent spill as evidence of the vulnerability of oil operations in environmentally sensitive areas.


“I’m not particularly proud of having to stand here having to talk about another oil spill off the great California coast,” Jackson said.

The bill is opposed by oil industry groups including the Western States Petroleum Assn., which told lawmakers in a letter that existing law requires tough environmental review and regulation of any new oil drilling.

“SB 788 would only prohibit the state from capturing oil and gas resources that otherwise will continue to be drained by adjacent wells outside of the state’s purview,” the group wrote.

A similar bill introduced last year by Jackson died on the Assembly floor where, amid heavy lobbying by the oil industry, it fell far short of the votes needed for passage.

The State Lands Commission has not approved new oil and gas leases since the January 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara where a well blowout from one of the federal platforms resulted in a spill of up to 100,000 barrels of crude oil, state officials say.


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