By Roger Keeling, Daily Nexus, September 26, 1974
This past summer has seen numerous developments in the continuing controversy surrounding offshore and onshore oil exploration and drilling in Santa Barbara County. Moreover, many important events relating to oil development have occurred throughout the Southland.
Among these events are proposals by Exxon Oil Corp. to construct the deepest offshore oil platform in the world, as well as onshore supporting facilities, proposals by ARCO to expand its facilities at Ellwood Beach after drilling 17 new wells off Platform Holly, and, based in Los Angeles, the formation of a new anti-oil coalition entitled Seashore Environmental Alliance (SEA).
About one year ago , Exxon Corporation proposed building the world’s deepest offshore oil drilling platform in the Santa Ynez Offshore Field, which is located in Federal waters. The 940-foot platform, to be placed in 850 feet of water five and a half miles from shore, would be twice as deep as any platform in existence. The facility would be approximately 20 miles up the coast from Santa Barbara, adjacent to Refugio Beach State Park and El Capitan Beach State Park.
On August 16 , the Department of the Interior approved construction of the massive platform, which will cost Exxon around $40 million. Also approved by Interior was a proposal by Exxon to permanently moor a 28,000-ton oil tanker not far from the platform to serve as a storage and treatment plant for the crude oil. This latter approval was given as an alternative for Exxon in the event Santa Barbara County denied Exxon permission to build a basic separating and storage facility onshore.
The onshore facility itself represents an extensive development. Last year , Exxon purchased 1,500 acres of property in Las Flores Canyon, between Refugio and El Capitan State Beaches. Shortly after the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors shelved a proposed County Oil Ordinance which had been four years in the making, Exxon conducted “exploratory work” on the Las Flores property without a permit. The work, according to Exxon, was to aid in the preparation of the required Environmental Impact Report.
The work, however, caused significant damage to the canyon, including cutting banks and roads, and piling tailings into the stream. This action was rebuked by Santa Barbara County Supervisors Frank Frost and Jim Slater, and was called “unnecessary” by County Environmental Quality Administrator Albert Reynolds. Nonetheless, no official action was taken against Exxon.
Last Thursday, public hearings were held concerning the draft Environmental Impact Report before Reynolds. The hearings are to be continued on October 14, when the final EIR is presented. That hearing will be held in Planning Commission Room No. 17 in the County Building, beginning at 9:30.
Another major oil development was a proposal by ARCO, first suggested last February , to expand drilling operations on Platform Holly as well as expand the onshore supporting facilities at Ellwood Beach. The plans call for drilling 17 new wells from the platform, which will bring it up to its original intended capacity of 30 wells. In addition, the 13 existing wells are to be re-drilled and re-bottomed out.
A major controversy surrounding this proposal is the decision by the State Coastal Commission to allow ARCO to proceed without a State Coastal Commission Permit. ARCO has argued that it holds a vested right in Platform Holly, and is therefore exempt from the Coastal Commission Act.
Get Oil Out!, Inc. (GOO) has filed suit against the Coastal Commission, arguing that this decision was improper. The hearing on the suit, along with another GOO suit regarding four Standard Oil platforms (two off Summerland, two off Carpinteria), is scheduled to come before San Francisco Superior Court on October 16 .
Last Saturday, hearings were held in Ellison Hall before the State Lands Commission concerning the draft Environmental Impact Report for the ARCO proposals. The report, which can be viewed by the public in the UCSB library, Special Documents Collection, dealt with such issues as seismic dangers, air pollution increases, and effects on the marine biology.
Critics of the report felt many portions of the 1,000-page EIR were weak, particularly such areas as the sections on tanker spills and the adverse health effects of increased oil pollution.
There was some question as to the total intent of the ARCO proposal and the EIR. While supposedly just dealing with the Ellwood Beach expansion, a Phase II portion was repeatedly referred to in which the addition of two to three platforms was discussed. ARCO and other interested oil representatives have insisted that no additional platforms are being considered, but environmentalists have pointed out that a significant portion of the EIR dealt with the Phase II plans.
A point shared by both the ARCO and Exxon proposals is the terminology used in describing the onshore facilities. According to the 1968 County Oil Ordinance, no refineries are allowed in Santa Barbara County. Local anti-oil people insist that the two facilities being considered by ARCO and Exxon are technically refineries, based on the definition of refinery in Webster’s dictionary, and the fact that the plans will be used to clean certain impurities from oil and gas.
The oil companies, on the other hand, insist that the plants are not refineries. Among other reasons, they base their logic on the fact that the plants will not be capable of breaking crude oil down into its basic components. On the state level, extending from Santa Barbara County down through San Diego County, is a new environmental coalition organized to muster opposition to the ever-expanding oil operations offshore, and to counteract the pro-oil stance of the Interior Department.
Entitled Seashore Environmental Alliance (SEA), the coalition encompasses 61 affiliate organizations, some of which are coalitions themselves. This includes the Consumer Federation of California in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Friends of the Earth; California Coastal Alliance; as well as Santa Barbara’s GOO.
These past few weeks, SEA sponsored a major petition-gathering drive to emphasize the opposition to offshore drilling that exists in California. The effort collected 195,982 signatures statewide in a two-week period, including 27,105 signatures collected by Santa Barbara environmentalists alone. The signatures hopefully are to be delivered to President Gerald Ford in Washington next Monday by actor Paul Newman.
Santa Barbara recently saw the creation of its own environmental coalition, the Santa Barbara Coalition Against Oil Production. The organization, which is to include those anti-oil organizations already in existence as well as operating separately from them, will aid in communications among environmentalists in the area, and serve as a voice for smaller groups and organizations which stand to lose from oil pollution.