Letters to the Editor

Viewpoint: ‘Innovative’ plan could lead to new drilling along coast

Linda Krop, chief counsel of the Environmental Defense Center, wrote a great PR piece for PXP. ( “Innovative plan will benefit Central Coast,” Nov. 15)

Sounds wonderful— a “plan that will end offshore oil drilling in California” — an “innovative solution to achieve coastal protection” — “an opportunity to be creative and progressive.” It has no basis in reality.

There are sound reasons why the State Lands Commission denied the Tranquillon Ridge (PXP) project— the agreement to phase out four rigs is not enforceable and the “innovative” idea to attempt to end oil drilling by allowing additional drilling could set the stage for new federal drilling along our entire coast.

While it is true that the existing platforms have no end date, they will be phased out anyway as the oil supply dwindles.

What the PXP agreement does is open up an entire new oil field for development that will not be gone in 14 years. It is perverse logic to say that allowing new drilling into T-Ridge will end drilling at T-Ridge early and provide a path to end outer continental shelf drilling in all of California!

If this project is denied, NO drilling into T-Ridge will occur and other rigs will be phased out. This “innovative” idea has already opened the doors to other oil companies seeking to make PXP-like deals so they can expand their drilling off California’s coast.

Here is the reality of the PXP deal:

Allowing new drilling in state waters makes a statement that it is OK to drill in federal waters because California considers financial contributions to its General Fund a benefit that outweighs the risk to its coastline.

Lawmakers have said that approval of new drilling in state waters will make it difficult to prevent new drilling in federal waters.

The state Attorney General and the State Lands Commission attorneys concluded the terms of the agreement that relate to the cessation of oil production are unenforceable.

The ability to enforce the end dates is hampered by the ability of the federal government to exercise eminent domain, interference with the federal government’s right to use pipelines in interstate commerce and interference by the state with the contract between PXP and Minerals Management Service (MMS).

The state and county could also opt out.

Federal law requires MMS to extract all available oil. MMS may agree to a termination of the PXP lease if PXP agrees to pay the federal government for any oil not extracted. Such a requirement serves as incentive for PXP to break its commitment.

Equally important, the ability to buy out of its lease does not prevent MMS from reselling the lease to another oil company.

The confidential agreement between PXP and EDC is between private parties. If PXP decided to continue to drill, it might, at best, result in the payment of damages to the EDC, but it would be very unlikely the courts would impose a requirement for PXP to cease operations, particularly if the state agreed it could continue.

PXP/EDC claims this will result in shutting down operations from four platforms. Even if the end dates were enforceable, PXP does not own three of the four platforms, and there is no evidence their partners will cease operations (and pay the government penalties) as claimed.

PXP’s submittal to the State Lands Commission says some of the land may have “insurmountable title issues.”

Because the agreement is confidential, there is no ability to review the terms and conditions that run with the land or any benefits of this. Who will hold title? How and when will the lands be conveyed? What restrictions will be placed on the use or future sale of the land? And how and by whom might it be managed?

The governor is supporting this based on the contribution to the state’s General Fund. Yet a severance tax on existing drilling would raise 10 times the amount of money while not allowing new drilling.

In spite of what the oil industry would have you believe, offshore oil drilling is not safe. A major spill could destroy our ocean, beaches and coastal economy.

Spills happen on a regular basis. One-quarter of all oil spills in the past 44 years have occurred in the last decade. Most recently a spill in Australian waters lasted 72 days in spite of using the latest technology. This spill is having devastating impacts on marine life.

Innovation is great, but it must be designed to work. This one won’t!

Fran Gibson is a member of the Oppose PXP/T Ridge Project Coalition, which includes more than 100 member groups. She is president of the board of Coastwalk California.