Bill would ban oil drilling in Vandenberg marine protected area

Written By: Dan Bacher, June 21, 2014

Bill would ban oil drilling in Vandenberg marine protected area

Fishermen, Tribal leaders and grassroots environmentalists have repeatedly criticized the privately funded Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative for creating questionable "marine protected areas" that fail to protect the ocean from oil drilling, fracking, pollution, military testing, corporate aquaculture and all human impacts on the ocean other than fishing and gathering. 

The Coastal Justice Coalition, a group of members of the Yurok, Hoopa Valley, Karuk and other Tribes who agree that the State of California has no right to regulate tribal gathering, exposed this severe flaw in the MLPA Initiative when they stated, "Protected areas would allow for deep water drilling yet would ban tribal gathering," in a news release issued in June 2010. (http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2010/06/29/18652206.php)  

While MLPA Initiative officials let the oil industry, corporate polluters and ocean industrialists off the hook in their strange concept of "marine protection," offshore oil drilling will be banned in one state marine protected area, the Vanderberg State Marine Reserve, if State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) has her way. 

Senator Jackson has introduced a bill, SB 1096, to ban offshore oil drilling from an area of state waters in the Santa Barbara Channel known as Tranquillon Ridge. The area is designated as a "marine protected area" because of its sensitive marine ecosystem, according to a statement from Senator Jackson's office. 

Declaring that "offshore oil and gas production in certain areas of state waters poses an unacceptably high risk of damage and disruption to the marine environment of the state," the California Legislature in 1994 banned any new offshore oil and gas leases when it passed the California Coastal Sanctuary Act. 

But a glaring loophole in state law left Tranquillon Ridge, which extends into state and federal waters, with reserves that are currently being tapped in federal waters from Platform Irene, uniquely vulnerable to offshore drilling, according to Jackson's office. 

This loophole in the California Coastal Sanctuary Act authorizes the State Lands Commission to enter into a lease for the extraction of oil or gas from state-owned tide and submerged lands in the California Coastal Sanctuary, "if the commission determines that the oil or gas deposits are being drained by means of producing wells upon adjacent federal lands and the lease is in the best interest of the state." 

Senate Bill 1096 repeals this loophole, found in Public Resources Code 6244. 

"For too long, oil companies have been eying this precious marine ecosystem as theirs for the taking," said Senator Jackson. "With each new proposal, we have mustered our resources, and fought for our environmental future. This bill would close the book on the possibility of future offshore drilling in these state waters and help ensure that our precious coastline remains protected forever." 

Jackson said oil companies have made numerous attempts to tap into Tranquillon Ridge's offshore reserves from state waters over the years. Since 2003, an oil development proposal has been pursued by Sunset and Exxon to drill into Tranquillon Ridge reserves from an onshore location at Vandenberg Air Force Base. 

"Slant drilling from onshore into offshore waters raises significant concerns about possible oil spills, impacts on marine life, air and water pollution, and contributions to global climate change," said Jackson. 

"We are thrilled to sponsor this bill, which would protect one of the most environmentally rich areas on the California coast," said Linda Krop, chief counsel of the Environmental Defense Center, a nonprofit environmental law firm headquartered in Santa Barbara County. "This region is recognized as one of five important ecological regions on the planet. For this reason, the state has designated this area as a Marine Protected Area, which means that it warrants the highest possible level of protection." 

"If a project like the original T-ridge, which contained significant environmental benefits, was rejected by the state, then our community should vehemently oppose an oil project that has even worse environmental impacts and no benefits," said Assemblymember Das Williams (D-Santa Barbara). "This bill would protect our waters from potential harmful new oil development." 

Vandenberg State Marine Reserve (SMR) is a marine protected area located offshore of Vandenberg Air Force Base, near the city of Lompoc on the Central Coast. The marine protected area covers 32.84 square miles. 

Vandenberg SMR is supposed to "protect" all marine life within its boundaries and fishing and take of all living marine resources is prohibited. However, the "marine reserve," like others established under the MLPA Initiative, doesn't ban oil drilling, fracking or pollution. 

Vandenberg SMR was established in September 2007 in a controversial public-private partnership between the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. It was one of 29 marine protected areas adopted during the first phase of the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative. 

The time to ban offshore oil drilling, fracking, pollution, corporate aquaculture, military testing and other harmful activities to marine life in the "marine protected areas" created under the MLPA Initiative is long overdue. The oil industry's inordinate influence over the MLPA Initiative and other environmental processes, the Legislature and the Governor's Office is due to the enormous amount of money that the oil industry dumps into campaign contributions and lobbying in Sacramento every year.   

A report released on April 1, 2014 by the ACCE Institute and Common Cause reveals that Big Oil has spent $143.3 million on political candidates and campaigns – nearly $10 million per year and more than any other corporate lobby – over the past fifteen years. (http://www.indybay.org/uploads/2014/04/10/bil_oil_floods_the_capitol_4.1.14v2.pdf

But Big Oil exerts its influence not just by making campaign contributions, but also by lobbying legislators at the State Capitol. The oil industry spent $123.6 million to lobby elected officials in California from 1999 through 2013. This was an increase of over 400 percent since the 1999-2000 legislative session, when the industry spent $4.8 million. In 2013-2014 alone, the top lobbyist employer, Western States Petroleum Association, spent $4.7 million. 

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