Editorial: Oil risk still not worth the reward

For longtime residents of California, the Gulf Coast disaster is a sobering reminder of what happened here 41 years ago, when a devastating crude oil spill off Santa Barbara helped launch the modern environmental movement.

Since then, California has successfully lobbied against expanded offshore drilling. Last year, for example, the SLO County Board of Supervisors joined other government officials and environmental groups in opposing a federal plan — eventually rejected — to allow more oil drilling in federal waters off California.

At that time, Supervisor Bruce Gibson succinctly summed up the best argument against new offshore drilling: The risk is not worth the reward.

Sadly, that’s become all the more apparent with the tragic loss of life and the environmental and economic losses suffered in the Gulf Coast.

Certainly, technological advances have occurred since the Santa Barbara spill, but the events of the past couple of weeks show that current safeguards do not prevent a catastrophe.

In short, it’s time to drop the “drill, baby, drill” rhetoric.

We agree with President Obama’s decision to put a freeze on any additional offshore drilling in federal waters.

And while we question Gov. Schwarzenegger’s rationale for now opposing the PXP project proposed for state waters off Santa Barbara — “I see on TV the birds drenched in oil ” — we agree with putting the brakes on that proposal as well.

A full investigation into exactly what went wrong with the BP operation is critically important to ensure that current operations are conducted as safely as possible. An investigation also will help inform future debates over whether it makes sense to allow new offshore operations in any region of our nation.

Certainly, we remain highly dependent on oil, and it’s unrealistic to expect that we can turn that around in the near future.

Ultimately, however, we need another strategy; for one thing, there simply isn’t enough oil here to last us.

Estimates of the amount of oil in reserve off California, for example, range from 7.5 billion to 14 billion barrels. While that may sound impressive, in 2008 the United States consumed 7.14 billion barrels. That means there is, at best, about a two-year supply off our coast.

It’s time to get serious about investing in alternative sources of energy and more fuel-efficient vehicles. That makes far more sense than increasing our dependence on offshore operations that, as we’ve seen yet again in the Gulf Coast, carry such tremendous risk.