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Dems Worried Governor Wants to Break Oil Drilling Moratorium

by Indy, published

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

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