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Offshore oil

A woman walks around the point at Refugio State Beach a year after the 2015 oil spill that left Platform Holly shut down and Venoco filing for bankruptcy.

Len Wood, Staff

A resolution opposing any new offshore oil development leases in federal waters off the California coast was approved Tuesday on a 3-2 vote of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors.

Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam and 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino cast the dissenting votes.

The resolution will now be sent to President Donald Trump, the vice president, the secretary of the interior, ranking members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, several committees of both houses, the Bureau of Ocean Management, California Gov. Jerry Brown, state legislators and the State Lands Commission

First District Supervisor and Board Chairman Das Williams and 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann added the resolution to the administrative agenda in response to the Draft Proposed Five-Year Outer Continental Shelf Leasing Program for 2019 through 2024 announced Jan. 4 by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke.

Under the proposed plan, 90 percent of the outer continental shelf would be opened up to oil and gas exploration, and 47 potential offshore lease sales — including six off the California coast — could take place.

The resolution refers to the “millions of visitors” attracted to the county’s coastline for the beaches, surfing, fishing, diving and boating, and the coastal recreation and tourism that are essential components of the local economy.

It lists Santa Barbara Harbor as a port for commercial fishing, whale watching and cruise ships and notes the coastal waters include Channel Islands National Park and numerous marine protected areas.

The resolution notes the county's coastal waters support rich biodiversity and provide habitat for endangered species like the blue whale.

It also cites the 2015 Gaviota oil pipeline rupture and the 1969 offshore well failure that both fouled the ocean and beaches and caused “catastrophic damage” to the environment, local economy, wildlife and fisheries, pointing out the 1969 spill sparked the modern environmental movement.

The resolution criticizes the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management for holding only one California public hearing on the plan and asserts California’s coast deserves protection equal to that afforded Florida.

Zinke said after meeting with Florida’s governor that most of its coastal waters are exempt from the plan based on its unique ecosystems and reliance on tourism that could be damaged by an oil spill.

Although the resolution was on the administrative agenda, generally consisting of items approved together in a single vote without comment, it was pulled for discussion.

Four members of the public spoke about the resolution, one opposed and three in support.

Andy Caldwell, executive director of the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business, did not favor the resolution and asked that it be rescheduled as a departmental item for a wider discussion.

“Everybody wants to hang their hats on 1969,” Caldwell said, adding the 2015 spill didn’t even take place in the ocean and was nowhere near the level of the 1969 event.

“Have you ever thought about how much oil was produced here between 1969 and 2015?” he asked.

Those in support of the resolution were Kristen Hislop of the Environmental Defense Center, Alena Simon of Food and Water Watch California-Santa Barbara and Katie Davis, chairwoman of the Santa Barbara Group of the Sierra Club.

Hislop noted the EDC was founded following the 1969 spill.

“That was a long time (ago), but the threat of devastating spills still exist,” she said, pointing out the federal government is expanding oil drilling even as it rolls back oil industry safety regulations.

“Offshore drilling is at odds with our economy and way of life,” Simon said.

Davis said the secretary of the interior exempting Florida “clearly shows the administration understands the risks.”

“California has the sixth largest economy in the world” and its coastal waters harbor the “richest ecosystem in the world.”

They said drilling would increase our dependence on foreign oil when the country should be working on nonpolluting, sustainable and renewable energy sources.

Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf said she was “in full support” of the resolution because Trump is pulling back the protections enacted after the BP Deepwater Horizon well blowout, explosion and fire in 2010.

She said if something like that happened here, the “amount of destruction would be insurmountable.”

“I think we need to stand up for the environment,” Wolf said.

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Hartmann said the decision to exempt Florida must be either financially or politically motivated, but either one is “indefensible and inexcusable.”

She said California’s economy is $17.6 billion, while Florida’s is just $10 billion, and the state’s offshore waters are unique and biologically rich and a major draw for tourists.

Hartmann said the current administration ordered the task force studying the Deepwater Horizon event to find ways of avoiding similar disasters to stop work on its report while rolling back rules requiring safety measures.

Lavagnino said drilling for oil wouldn’t increase our dependence on oil and said while Americans say they want to divorce themselves from oil, they aren’t doing it, pointing out renewable sources account for only 15 percent of the nation’s energy.

Yet, he said, Americans use 7.2 billion barrels of oil a year, 34 percent of which comes from Saudi Arabia, which sends people to 10 to 15 years in prison for peaceful protests and five years for supporting a woman’s right to drive, sentences homosexuals to death and holds public beheadings.

He said the alternatives are to get oil from Latin America, where environmental rules are lax, or countries like Brazil, which is “overseeing the incredible deforestation of the rain forest.”

“So it’s either done here under the most strict environmental rules you can find, or we support Third World (countries) or countries that abuse women,” Lavagnino said. “We should not turn a blind eye (to) where we get it from.”

Williams responded, “There’s no good place to get oil from,” and said “task No. 1 is to live our values.”

“If we’re really against … fossil fuels, the last thing we need to do is open up more of this in our backyard,” he said.

But Adam had a different view of offshore oil development, saying it’s critical to the local economy and can be safely produced.

“My farm uses at least a truckload of diesel every week,” he said. “People don’t understand what it takes to get those boxes (of produce) out of the field. You can’t use a Prius to haul produce to stores all over the country. It’s just not going to work.”

Adam said taking extreme measures on oil would put all farms in California out of business.

“With food coming from other countries, the cost would be astronomically more to feed yourself,” he said.