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SLO County supervisors consider sending feds a strong message on offshore oil drilling

Supporters of the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary holds signs warning of the risk of oil spills in the ocean off San Luis Obispo County during the Board of Supervisors meeting on Feb. 7, 2017.
Supporters of the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary holds signs warning of the risk of oil spills in the ocean off San Luis Obispo County during the Board of Supervisors meeting on Feb. 7, 2017. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors will consider Tuesday whether to send a clear and strong message to the federal government opposing offshore oil and gas development.

Supervisors will decide whether to send a letter to United States Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, declaring, “The County of San Luis Obispo is opposed to any expansion of oil and gas exploration or extraction off our coastline.”

San Luis Obispo County has a history of opposing offshore oil and gas development, dating back to 1986, when voters approved Measure A. That measure requires a public vote before the county approves any permit for development of onshore facilities to support offshore oil and gas facilities. In 2009, the Board of Supervisors sent a letter to the secretary of the interior opposing offshore oil and gas drilling.

San Luis Obispo County has a history of opposing offshore oil and gas development, dating back to 1986, when voters approved Measure A.

That historical stance came under question by some residents last month, when the supervisors voted 3-2 to oppose the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary that some supporters see as a tool to prevent offshore fossil fuel development.

The proposed letter to Zinke comes one week after the board voted 3-1 to approve a letter in support of a bill to prohibit oil and gas leasing off California shores, introduced in Congress by Rep. Salud Carbajal, a Central Coast Democrat. Carbajal told The Tribune in January that his House Resolution 731 stands little chance of passing in a Republican-controlled Congress.

Supervisors Adam Hill, Lynn Compton and Bruce Gibson all voted to support the bill. Supervisor John Peschong, whose political consulting company contracted with oil companies before he was elected in November, recused himself from the discussion. Supervisor Debbie Arnold voted “no.”

“I won’t be supporting this particular letter supporting the bill at this time,” Arnold said. “But I do want to say, I’m confident that Measure A provides the protection we need in this county to protect us against unwanted offshore oil development off our own county shores, as it has for over 30 years.”

I won’t be supporting this particular letter supporting the bill at this time. But I do want to say, I’m confident that Measure A provides the protection we need.

Supervisor Debbie Arnold

Before the vote on Feb. 28, Hill said Carbajal’s bill represents the “interests of the citizens of the Central Coast” but it’s “pretty clear that the bill has no chance of passing this Congress.” He suggested the board also renew its 2009 letter to the interior secretary because the department is “one of the main agencies in which these kinds of actions would go through.”

The letter before the board states that the county has a substantial history of involvement and opposition to leasing on the Outer Continental Shelf for oil and gas development and the involved potential adverse impacts to the land and marine environment, air quality, economic impacts on fishing, oil spill impacts and tourism.

There are no current oil and gas exploration or extraction facilities directly off the coast of San Luis Obispo County, and the county has never had to grapple with an offshore oil disaster, the letter says. However, “we have had extensive experience dealing with the calamitous aftermath of oil company negligence and equipment failure resulting in the massive cleanups of the Guadalupe Dunes Oil Field and the town of Avila Beach,” it states.

The idea of a letter in support of Carbajal’s bill was suggested Feb. 7, during the discussion of the marine sanctuary. Compton said a sanctuary designation wasn’t the correct vehicle to prevent offshore oil drilling and encouraged people to instead support the proposed bill.

Monica Vaughan: 805-781-7930, @MonicaLVaughan

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