Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Council Opposes Offshore Drilling

[ From: After Tense Discussion, City Council Votes to Send Letter Opposing Offshore Drilling -
Councilman Dale Francisco is the lone dissenter, asking pointed questions of an EDC attorney and Councilman Das Williams - by Lara Cooper, Noozehawk, September 15, 2009 ]

A tense exchange marked a discussion Tuesday among members of the Santa Barbara City Council about whether to send a letter opposing offshore oil drilling. Ultimately, the discussion led to a 5-1 vote to send the letter of opposition, with Councilman Dale Francisco dissenting. Councilwoman Iya Falcone was absent.

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors voted two weeks ago to send a similar letter.

The letter is part of public comment sought by the Mineral Management Service...

In January, the draft plan for the proposed outer continental shelf oil and gas leasing program for the next five years was released. That same month, the Santa Barbara County supervisors voted 3-2 to approve drilling after a moratorium had been lifted on drilling in federal waters.

With former 3rd District Supervisor Brooks Firestone serving as the swing vote, approval for new leasing made national headlines, all after a deal had been brokered between the Environmental Defense Center and Plains Exploration & Production Co. (PXP), an oil company and backer of a platform off Santa Barbara’s north county coast at Tranquillon Ridge. The EDC’s deal would have required the company to cease production after 14 years, but would allow it to drill in the meantime.

When the issue came before the State Lands Commission, however, it rejected it on a 2-1 vote. Councilman Das Williiams, who supported putting the letter on the council’s agenda, said he favored sending it and “reiterating our past opposition.”

“I think it’s very clear that the majority of our constituents are opposed to new leasing,” he said.

Councilwoman Helene Schneider said she supported sending the letter as a clarification to the Board of Supervisors’ vote earlier in the year.

“It created a lot of confusion,” she said, when national media outlets picked up on the story in January.

Eight members of the public spoke during public comment Tuesday, with five speakers supporting the letter and three opposing...

The discussion turned tense when Nathan Alley, an attorney for the Environmental Defense Center, [was asked by council member] Francisco... whether the letter dealt with drilling in federal or state waters, and Alley clarified that the letter dealt with offshore leasing in federal waters, not in state waters, where the drilling would occur for the Tranquillon Ridge project...

“Why are we talking about federal waters instead of state?” Francisco asked.

Alley responded that because the issue was time sensitive, with a deadline for public comment looming, the issue needed to be addressed sooner rather than later, and that the EDC’s deal dealt only with state waters as far as Tranquillon Ridge was concerned.

“You’d be pumping more oil in the short term, but you’d be pumping it for much less time,” he said.

Francisco asked whether oil would be pumped for 14 years, and Alley replied that it could be pumped for a shorter amount of time. Francisco persisted, asking “Is that correct?” several times.

“Excuse me,” Mayor Blum called out, taking issue with Francisco’s tone. “That’s not being civil or kind.”

Francisco shot back: “We don’t usually respond to public comment either, and you’ve felt free to do that. I have some questions to ask. May I continue to ask them?”

“Yeah, but if you could do it in a nice, civil way, we would appreciate it,” Blum said.

Francisco also asked Williams about the timing of the letter. “If this was so critically important to bring before council, and we had seven months to comment on a 149-page report, why did you wait until a week before the end of the comment period to bring it to us?” he asked.

Francisco also took issue with council time being used for the topic, and that the letter stated that the city had reviewed the whole document.

“I’m not aware of any review by the city,” he said.

Williams said the timing of the issue was partly because the county had sent a similar letter and asked the city to do the same. The staff has been reviewing the issue for months internally, Williams said, but that the council hasn’t had a regular meeting for the past two weeks, further delaying the item.

“It’s an important matter for us to clarify to the world, which was obviously very confused last year as a result of the reversal by the Board of Supervisors,” Williams said.

He said halting existing operations would be “the ideal situation.”

Blum said she had reviewed the material and was comfortable signing the letter, but Francisco was not.

“The idea that we have somehow reviewed a 149-page document is absurd,” he said, adding that by signing a letter saying the council had read the document was “a misuse of the role of actually considering things before we act.”

“I will not be voting for this misrepresentation of our work,” he said.

Oil drilling discussion turns testy, by Eric Lindberg, Daily Sound, Sept. 16, 2009 ]

... The City Council ultimately voted 5-1 in favor of firing off the letter to the federal Minerals Management Service, but not before Councilmember Dale Francisco criticized his colleagues for even bringing the topic to the table.

“We’re not considering it,” he said. “Nobody here has really talked about what the draft proposal says other than in the vaguest terms.”

Francisco was referring to the draft five-year plan for new oil and gas leasing along the outer continental shelf released earlier this year by the federal Department of the Interior. With two drilling proposals pending in waters off the coast of Santa Barbara, Councilmembers Das Williams and Helene Schneider placed the item on the agenda for discussion to reiterate the city’s opposition to new leasing.

“It’s an important matter to the people of this city,” Williams said. “It’s an important matter for us to clarify to the world … that Santa Barbara is opposed to new federal oil drilling.”

But Francisco took issue with the timing of the agenda item, as well as portions of the letter indicating that the city had reviewed the proposed leasing plan.

“If this was so critically important to bring before council and we’ve had seven months to comment on a 140-page report, why did you wait until there is less than a week left before the comments are due?” he said, facing Williams directly. He added later, “By signing on to the letter like this, claiming to review a report that we clearly have not, I believe that is a misuse of our role of actually considering things before we act.”

Williams countered that city staff had been reviewing the proposal and scheduling conflicts had relegated the item to yesterday’s agenda. He also combed over significant portions of the document, he said, and Mayor Marty Blum chimed in to say that she had also read the leasing proposal.

“We, as a city, did review this,” Williams said. “Staff has already been working on this. This is not just something we invented yesterday.”

In addition to sparking fireworks on the dais, the agenda item also drew several outspoken critics and proponents of offshore drilling to council chambers.

Representatives from Get Oil Out!, the Environmental Defense Center and Sierra Club logged their strong support of the letter and reflected on the oil spill of 1969 that spoiled the coastline of Santa Barbara.

“We need to do everything we can to prevent a repetition of the nightmare of 1969,” said Dr. Jessica Powell, a board member of GOO!

John Powell, president of GOO!, added, “We’ve got to stop looking in the wrong places for energy. If we keep digging up dinosaurs and putting stuff up into the atmosphere, we’re heading for trouble.”

Other speakers fell on the side of increased oil production as a way to reduce natural oil pollution at local beaches. Bruce Allen, of Stop Oil Seeps, said he was opposed to sending the letter, but proposed a few changes to reflect the impact of natural oil seepage on the environment.

“We would recommend that it start with the sentence that basically speaks to the very large environmental benefits that offshore oil and gas production has had on our coastline,” he said, contending that beaches are far cleaner with less tar pollution due to oil drilling reducing the pressure that creates natural seeps.

As drafted, the letter instead focuses on the potential negative impacts to the local environment posed by offshore oil and gas production, noting that new leases would prolong the use of aging and unsightly platforms and would likely lead to the installation of new oil production infrastructure.

“We need to get rid of existing operations and stop new drilling,” Williams said. “When those can be accomplished, that is the ideal situation.”

As the councilmembers flipped on their microphones to cast votes in favor of sending the letter, Francisco was the only person to hold back. Instead, he leaned forward and paused for several beats before logging his “no” vote.

[ From Das, as reported in Council votes to take against offshore drilling, Edhat, September 15, 2009 ]

SANTA BARBARA, CA – Santa Barbara City Councilmembers Das Williams and Helene Schneider today called on the City Council to oppose new Federal offshore oil drilling. Williams and Schneider requested that the city council vote in favor of sending a letter to the Minerals Management Service opposing any new Federal oil leases off the coast of Santa Barbara. The Minerals Management Service, a bureau of the U.S. Department of the Interior, is currently preparing a proposed oil and gas leasing program that includes potential new oil leases in the Santa Barbara and Ventura Area. The City Council voted in favor of sending the letter by a 5 to 1 vote.

“Allowing new Federal oil leases off our coast would be disastrous to our efforts to end oil drilling,” stated Councilmember Das Williams. “This plan would have negative impacts on our local economy, put our environment at risk and open the door to additional new oil facilities both on and off shore. We need to be focused on stopping oil development and reducing consumption, while investing in green technologies like alternative fuels and solar power.”

The Santa Barbara City Council has a long history of opposing oil drilling. The City’s General Plan states that the City should “continue efforts to prohibit new oil exploration, drilling and production in the channel and to cause the termination of existing leases and the removal of platform structures.”

“We are constantly facing new environmental challenges. It is important that the City of Santa Barbara oppose any new Federal oil drilling lease and that we use any means possible to bring a definitive end to all new and existing oil drilling,” said Santa Barbara Councilmember Das Williams. My goal is simple, to put an end to oil development and protect our coast from new projects that bring new drilling to our coast.”

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