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Environmentalists Behaving Badly

January 26, 2010

"Whoa! Drillling?"

Last week, Calbuzz had an exclusive revealing the details of a previously-secret agreement between the Environmental Defense Center (EDC) and Plains Exploration & Production Company (PXP) which, if approved by the requisite government entities, would break 40 years of precedent by allowing the construction of new oil drilling in California at Tranquillon Ridge, a sea formation near . That sentence likely elicits a certain amount of cognitive dissonance – why would an environmental organization support oil drilling? A very good question, indeed.

The gist of the deal is this:

  • PXP gets to drill at Tranquillon Ridge using a technique called ‘slant drilling’ which allows them to pump from Californian waters using a rig in federal waters – and they get EDC’s public support and approval in getting the government to consent to the deal.
  • EDC gets a legal promise from PXP that they will shut down three federal rigs within nine years of receiving the deal’s commencement and will shut down the Tranquillon Ridge project itself by 2022. EDC would also get land donations by PXP for the public benefit and $20/ton greenhouse gas mitigation fee for emissions caused by the project (though not by the gas that is pumped out) paid into public cofers. Oh, and they get $100,000 dollars.

The deal appears to be at best a misguided and counterproductive attempt to reduce offshore drilling – ironic as well, considering EDC’s genesis in the aftermath of the 1969 oil spill which originally brought about the de facto ban on new drilling. At worst, it is a formerly respectable environmental organization transitioning into a Big Oil public relations firm for what should be a pittance.

It’s almost too backwards to really merit a rebuttal. A few of the problems it has, in question form:

  • First of all, many questions arise regarding the legitimacy and process of the deal. Why does EDC get to negotiate the deal? Who gave them that authority? Why don’t elected officials do it? Shouldn’t the possibility of new offshore drilling – a contentious issue if there ever was one – be discussed in the public arena instead of in backrooms?
  • How will allowing more oil drilling reduce oil drilling, fossil fuel dependence and  greenhouse gas emissions? How will failing to protect California’s coast from the harmful effects of oil drilling by dismantling 40 years of precedent protect California’s coast from the harmful effects of oil drilling? Why would Californians and the environmental community give up that precedent when the alternative is just letting it continue and not allowing any new oil drilling?
  • Is oil drilling really the way we want to raise state revenues? What about green jobs? What about the environment? What about air quality?

The final nail in the coffin is the fact that EDC may not be able to enforce the supposed end dates. As State Lands Commissioner John Chiang writes, the federal leases that PXP are managed by an agency of the Department of the Interior with has the responsibility of gaining the most revenue from the leases. That could possibly include suing to force PXP to continue drilling.

All in all, it’s just a ridiculous deal that previously has justly been rejected by the State Lands Commission and the Legislature. The problem now is that former Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi has left his post and the position on the Lands Commission that goes along with it. Currently, the post seems destined to go to State Senator Abel Maldonado (R-Santa Maria) who has distinguished himself as the only Republican willing to work the Democrats in the Legislature. From the LA Times, a recent comment from him about the deal:

“I’ve voted against the proposal three times,” Maldonado said. “As lieutenant governor, I would take each issue as it comes before the commission, but I don’t know how much clearer I can be on that issue.”

Hopefully he’s a man of his word. The Tranquillon Ridge deal as it now stands is ridiculous. If the state wants to make money off oil companies, we should impose an oil severance tax, just like every other state in the nation, not allow more drilling. Senator Alberto Torrico’s proposed tax would raise a tidy $1.3 billion a year for the state university system. Let’s see: no payoffs, no more drilling, money for ailing universities. That seems like a much more intelligent policy to me.

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