Anti-drilling groups set to announce agreement on Santa Barbara County's offshore oil

LOS ANGELES — Several anti-drilling groups on Wednesday are expected to unveil an updated version of a controversial agreement they believe will eventually end drilling off the coast of Santa Barbara County.

In 2008, three respected Santa Barbara nonprofits, including the Environmental Defense Center, signed an agreement with Plains Exploration & Production Co.

The conservation groups agreed to lobby for Plains Exploration & Production’s proposal to expand drilling off Platform Irene in exchange for promises of land, money and the company eventually ending its local drilling operations.

The terms of the agreement, however, remained confidential — a sticking point that ultimately killed the project during the public approval process at the State Lands Commission.

At the time, commissioners and other environmentalists said they were also concerned the end date would not be enforceable and could inadvertently open the entire coastline to drilling.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has twice tried to revive the project, most recently with a proposal to use money generated from the drilling to fund state parks.

Linda Krop, attorney for the groups, later said she regretted making the initial agreement confidential. Krop said this week that they have revised and strengthened the agreement to address the enforceability concerns.

The new details are expected to be released at a press conference in Santa Barbara and made available on the nonprofit’s Web site.

“The reason we are coming out with this new agreement wasn’t because we thought the 2008 agreement wasn’t enforceable but because we wanted to address the questions and concerns that were raised,” Krop said. “We definitely have strengthened the transparency and enforceability in doing so.”

At least one critic, however, sees some irony in the release of this new document.

“For the Environmental Defense Center to acknowledge they had to develop a revised agreement is confirmation of the flaws of the original,” said Assemblyman Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara, who is running for state attorney general.