Dems Worried Governor Wants to Break Oil Drilling Moratorium

Two top state Democratic leaders — Lt. Gov. John
Garamendi and state Controller John Chiang — came down hard on Gov.
Arnold Schwarzenegger last week, claiming he was making a low-profile,
back-door attempt at doing away with a 40-year-old moratorium on oil
drilling in state waters.

Contained in the governor’s May revised budget is a plan to launch
legislation that would authorize one oil company to begin drilling off
Santa Barbara at an existing oil platform that sits very near the
border between state and federal waters in the oil- and
ecologically-rich Santa Barbara Channel.

State officials said the proposal — which was first rejected by the
State Lands Commission in January — would have generated a total of
$1.8 billion for the state over the course of the drilling operation’s
lifetime. The three-member state commission, consisting of the
lieutenant governor, the controller and the state director of finance,
regulate all oil drilling and minerals mining that occurs in the
state’s jurisdiction. The U.S. Minerals Management Service is the state
agency’s federal counterpart.

The drilling project, which would expand operations off Platform Irene,
does not violate the terms of the state’s drilling moratorium because
the moratorium contains a provision saying drilling operations are
permissible at any oil field that happens to drain or collect onto a
federally-controlled oil field, according to Schwarzenegger spokeswoman
Lisa Page.

Platform Irene is such an oil field, she said.

Page added that the governor is not contradicting recent statements he
has made in support of the moratorium on new oil exploration. She said
he continues to oppose any new oil exploration off the coast.

“The Coastal Protection Act included a provision that the moratorium
doesn’t apply in the very rare instance where there’s oil in state
waters leaching out into federal waters. This is the only instance (of
that happening),” Page said. “The legislation would be drafted in such
a way that this is the only instance that would be allowed and we’ll be
working with environmental stakeholders and the legislature in drafting
this proposal.”

The new drilling proposal, known as the Tranquillon Ridge project, was promo