Wednesday, September 10, 2008

City says no to oil


Falling in line with decades of staunch opposition to offshore oil drilling, the Santa Barbara City Council last night adopted a resolution in support of a state and federal moratorium on oil and gas drilling off the coast of Santa Barbara.
The majority of the City Council, which voted 5-1 to support the resolution, said the largely symbolic action was prompted by a divisive 3-2 vote by the county Board of Supervisors last month to send a letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that expressed the county’s support for opening the waters for expanded oil drilling.

Councilman Das Williams said he hopes the resolution, which will add to a long list of similar actions by the council over the past 35 years, will clear up what he characterized as “confusion” in the national media about who was behind the Board of Supervisor’s vote. He said some might have incorrectly perceived the county’s action as a reflection of the city’s views on the topic.
“Clearly there is a misperception out there in indeed the whole country because of this weird vote [at] the Board of Supervisors,” he said. “For us to allow that misperception to stand would be unconscionable.”
With that, the five council members opposed to additional offshore drilling, (Councilman Dale Francisco voted against the resolution), attacked the idea expressed by some at the meeting that more drilling could alleviate high gas prices, reduce America’s dependence of foreign oil and stymie the area’s oil and natural gas seeps.
Instead of encouraging more drilling, the council said considering the impacts of global warming and pushing research for sustainable energy alternatives is a more appropriate way to solve the current energy crisis.
“The record at the City of Santa Barbara is replete with a position that I don’t feel I have the authority to change without a whole lot more evidence,” said Councilwoman Iya Falcone. “I think we need to go to renewables and that’s where I’m focused.”
The council listened to a handful of brief presentations by organizations on both sides of the issue, including a group called Stop Oil Seeps, or SOS.
Bruce Allen, a representative of SOS, claimed additional oil drilling reduces natural oil seepage, which regularly ends up on Southern California beaches.
The group bases its conclusions on a study conducted by UC Santa Barbara researchers that found seepage around Platform Holly near Coal Oil Point decreased over the past two decades.
“There is significant evidence oil extraction can reduce oil seepage,” Allen said.
While many opposed to additional drilling have said it won’t solve the nation’s current energy problems, Allen said by his calculations, it will.
He said the revenue from drilling will help pay for sustainable energy research, which would in turn end the country’s addiction to fossil fuels, create jobs, improve the economy and reduce the naturally occurring seeps, which he said kills hundreds and possibly thousands of birds each year.
“We actually can drill our way out of this problem,” he said.
However, Bruce P. Luyendyk, a UCSB professor of marine geophysics who conducted the study used by SOS, said he believes the group is “overstating” the negative impacts of seepage.
Furthermore, he said the study deals only with the seeps at Coal Oil Point, which he said is the biggest seep in the world.
And since it’s currently being drilled, Luyendyk said the concerns expressed by SOS that seeps are harming the environment have already been solved.
“We’re back to the point where the problem is not there,” he said. “It’s a red herring and I think it is not relevant to the discussion.”
Steve Cushman, president of the Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce, which he said represents oil companies like Plains Exploration and Venoco, reminded the council that companies like these are some of the highest property tax payers in the county, and he urged the council to listen to what they had to say.
The next speaker was a representative from a tool company that makes valves and other safety equipment for offshore oil facilities.
Just as the man got his valve out to demonstrate the new technological advances that many say will go a long way to prevent oil spills, Mayor Marty Blum told him not to bother.
“I don’t know what the point is except congratulations on having a wonderful device,” she said.
While the vast majority of the board, including Councilman Roger Horton, who was absent, supported the resolution, Councilman Francisco did not.
The dissenting councilman said he didn’t feel it was appropriate for Williams, Councilwoman Helene Schneider and Blum to place such a complicated issue on the agenda a week before the meeting.
“I just think it’s unfortunate that we’ve rushed into this,” he said. “I don’t really quite understand why we had to do this today.”
Francisco said he too is in favor of pursuing alternative sources of energy, but said petroleum products from gasoline to asphalt are going to be used long into the future. He also said he doesn’t believe a moratorium is the correct way to go about handling the issue.
“I think it’s the wrong approach to a problem of this complexity,” he said.
After hearing the presentations, Williams urged all of those who might be listing to the meeting to not fall for what he called a “Jedi mind trick,” by oil proponents.
He said the notion that more oil drilling will save the education system, build a new desalination plan, as one speaker suggested, save all the birds along the coast and put solar panels on every resident’s roof is not accurate.
“The arguments are being supplied by precisely the people this community should never trust,” Williams said, referencing the 1969 Union Oil Co. spill, which spewed 80,000 barrels of oil into the Santa Barbara Channel and is largely credited with giving birth to the modern environmental movement. “This community has been burned by the oil companies so many times, and how you expect us to believe you after all that is mind boggling.”
The resolution, which is available in its entirely at, will be sent to a number of state and federal representatives, including Gov. Schwarzenegger.

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