Sunday, January 31, 2010

32 / Tranquillon Ridge

Despite the formidable distractions to be found in Singapore, I've been spending a lot of time thinking about an upcoming meeting of environmental lobbyists, scheduled for next Thursday in Sacramento. If I were in California, I'd be at that meeting.

A group called the Environmental Defense Center (EDC), based in Santa Barbara, has negotiated a "deal" with the Plains Exploration and Production Company (PxP), a Delaware Corporation which has its main offices in Houston, Texas. You can click this link to see an actual copy of the agreement. The "deal" memorializes the support of the EDC for new offshore oil drilling on the Tranquillon Ridge, which is located in "state waters" off Santa Barbara County.

The most incredible part of this contract between the EDC and the oil company is the EDC's promise to lobby in favor of the deal before relevant governmental agencies, whenever the oil company asks the EDC to do that, with the oil company promising to pay the EDC for undertaking this lobbying work. Check out Paragraph 2.1. That is exactly what the agreement says. The EDC, in other words, a California nonprofit, is now a paid lobbyist for a Texas-based oil company, and is contractually committed to try to convince the State Legislature, and other state and federal agencies, to let PxP develop a new oil field in "state waters" off Santa Barbara County. It is in connection with this pledge to the oil company that EDC has asked the environmental lobbyists in Sacramento to listen to their "pitch" for the Tranquillon Ridge development.

If you've been following this issue at all, you'll remember that this PxP-EDC "deal" was first made public last year (though the contract itself was not made public until recently) and that the State Lands Commission rejected the PxP proposal. Among other things, the State Lands Commission determined that most of the "good things" for the public promised in the agreement were unenforceable, but that once the oil company got its go ahead the State would be irrevocably committed to the new offshore oil development.

PxP (and the Environmental Defense Center, working as the paid lobbyist for PxP) has not been willing to take this "no" for an answer. Now, Governor Schwarzenegger has said, in his budget proposal for this year, that the money for our state parks should come from revenues to be generated from the new offshore oil development proposed by PxP. This budget demand that the state change its long term policy against new offshore oil development in state waters makes this a timely topic for the environmental lobbyists working in the State Capitol, even without the EDC's request that it be allowed to make a "pitch" in favor of the PxP proposal.

Much of the offshore oil drilling currently underway in the United States takes place in "federal waters," under the jurisdiction of the Minerals Management Service. The Tranquillon Ridge, however, being located in "state waters," is under the jurisdiction of the State Lands Commission. What is not apparent, except to those deeply engaged in efforts to stop offshore oil drilling around the nation's coasts, is the tie between what is proposed for California and what the effect of an approval of this proposal would mean in the federal context. In short, approval of the PxP deal, as advocated by the EDC, would almost certainly lead to opening up federal waters to new oil development.

Starting in the mid-1970's, I helped spearhead an effort to stop new offshore oil production (first off California, and then, ultimately, in all federal waters not already committed to offshore oil production). It is little remembered now, but there is a pretty good argument that the nationwide fight against offshore oil development actually began in Santa Cruz County, which organized local governments along the California Coast to stop Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) oil drilling affecting California. First, we had to stop drilling in "state waters," but in order to be ultimately successful, we had to convince the federal government to stop drilling in "federal waters" outside of state control. Amazingly enough, we were very successful. For something like thirty years, thanks to the continuing work of a nationwide coalition, Congress has adopted an annual "moratorium" on new OCS development. Recognizing the strong support in Congress for this "containment" strategy, the first President Bush, and then President Clinton, established the same rule by Executive Order, preventing the spread of OCS development to areas not already committed to OCS production. That OCS "moratorium" by Executive Order held until the second President Bush eliminated it. Now, the future containment of new OCS development depends solely on what Congress decides, and the Congress is under great pressure by the oil industry to allow new OCS development.

If California reverses its long-held position against new OCS development in its own waters, the Congress is very likely to open up federal waters (including some off California) to new oil development.

The meeting Thursday in Sacramento is very important. That's why I wish I could be there!


  1. "If California reverses its long-held position against new OCS development in its own waters, the Congress is very likely to open up federal waters (including some off California) to new oil development."

    What is your basis for this idea? It can be argued that this deal will send a message to congress that offshore drilling is dead now.

  2. Dear Anonymous:

    As I said in my original posting, I continue to be in contact with a nationwide coalition of environmental activists from all over the country, who oppose the expansion of Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) oil drilling on the nation's coasts. For more than thirty years, this informal group has worked through lobbyists in the federal Capitol to try to maintain the Congressional "moratorium" on new OCS development, and the coalition, being highly specialized on this issue, is in continuing contact with key members of Congressional committees, and opposition lobbyists.

    It is the judgment of lobbyists for this OCS opposition group that the Tranquillon Ridge deal, if it is adopted by the State of California, will lead to changes at the federal level that will mean more oil drilling off the nation's coasts.

    In other words, the "very likely to open up federal waters ..." statement in my posting is based on the judgment of lobbyists in Washington, DC who work on this issue as their number one priority, and who have beeen successful for over thirty years in stopping many OCS proposals in the Congress. They know what they're talking about.

    +Gary A. Patton


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