Letters to the Editor

Viewpoint on PXP’s oil plan: Plan won’t be good for the environment

Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee recently sent out a taxpayer-funded mailer promoting a private oil company’s plan to allow the first new offshore oil drilling in California in decades.

The plan benefits Texas-based Plains Exploration and Production Company (PXP) and certain environmental organizations — not Californians.

PXP’s self-serving and disingenuous claims regarding so-called “environmental benefits” associated with the plan are illusory and represent an attempt to mask the risky, dirty and dangerous proposal.

The plan’s defects constitute a laundry list, and PXP’s multi-million dollar PR campaign has caused extensive confusion. For those keeping score, and for the public, it is important to appreciate who is on what side. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Blakeslee and Santa Barbara’s Environmental Defense Center (EDC) support new offshore oil drilling in California State Sanctuary waters, just three miles off our coastline. As the agreements between PXP and EDC have never been made public, it is still unknown what the nature, benefits and obligations of their association is.

Meanwhile, the California State Lands Commission (which has already denied the plan after extensive review), the California Attorney General and more than 100 of the largest environmental organizations in the United States, including the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Audubon Society and dozens of others, oppose the plan.

First, the big picture: This is the same sort of dinosaur drilling that California has steadfastly refused to allow for decades because even a single mishap would cause irreparable damage to our coast and to our trillion-dollar coastal tourism and recreation economy.

The best and most recent estimates regarding the total reserves in the proposed drilling area are equivalent to nine days’ worth of oil at current U.S. consumption rates. In other words, PXP and its allies propose to subject our coast to what the Environmental Impact Report says are “significant adverse impacts that are unavoidable” to “terrestrial and freshwater biology, onshore water resources, marine biology, and commercial and recreational fishing” for years while providing just nine days’ worth of oil!

PXP and EDC argue that “drilling is safer now” because they will use “the best technology” and the “most advanced science.” Never mind that a 1997 spill from the same platform spewed 7,000 gallons of oil, killing at least 1,450 birds and leaving a 17-mile coastal stain that took 10 years to clean up.

This same “advanced science” has also resulted in a catastrophic oil spill in Australia that began in August and continues to average 16,800 gallons a day. That “state of the art rig,” built in 2007, has been pouring oil into the sea for more than two months.

PXP’s particular plan includes 28 new wells, and we should expect more and larger spills. With ancient Platform Irene, located only three miles offshore, oil would reach local beaches within hours of a spill.

PXP promises a variety of so-called environmental benefits with the plan, but, as the Los Angeles Times put it, “The problem is that these promises were written in the sand at low tide.”

The State Lands Commission and the Attorney General concluded that the environmental benefits “could not be reliably enforced.”

Regarding proposed land donations, don’t count on the 4,000 acres of “donated” land PXP promised any time soon. PXP has publicly acknowledged “insurmountable title issues,” and the State Lands Commission concluded “title problems could prevent some of the donations from occurring at all.”

PXP and EDC also dangle an “end date” for oil drilling operations. That is perhaps the chief reason why EDC supports the precedent for new offshore oil drilling, the notion that you do more drilling now in order to someday eventually stop drilling.

What EDC and PXP don’t tell you is that they cannot alone manifest such a determination. Only the United States Congress can impose an end date on federal offshore oil leases. There is no reason to believe this will happen. The U.S. Minerals Management Service has stated that it would “refuse to approve a Development and Production Plan for use of Platform Irene for (the PXP project) if it included an end date.”

Noting these dramatic flaws, the State Lands Commission rejected PXP’s plan to initiate the first new offshore oil drilling in California waters in 40 years.

On behalf of more than 100 environmental organizations and those state agencies and lawyers that reviewed and rejected this proposal, we urge PXP and EDC to reconsider their plan and join California’s efforts to protect our environment and economy from the ravages of more offshore oil development while we work toward realizing a clean, renewable energy future.

Mark A. Massara is director of Sierra Club coastal programs.