Efforts to limit California offshore oil could cost taxpayers
SACRAMENTO — An ambitious legislative effort to shut down three offshore oil rigs along the Orange County coast, where beaches and fragile wetlands were soiled after a major spill in October, could be hobbled by concerns over the eventual cost to California taxpayers.
The complexities of removing even a handful of oil platforms off California shores were the focus of a hearing Tuesday in Sacramento, a reminder of why the state’s billion-dollar oil industry has remained resilient for generations — even in an era when prominent California Democrats are aggressively pushing for a transition to a renewable-energy-based economy that reduces oil and gas consumption and production.
Senate Bill 953, a proposal that cleared its first hurdle Tuesday, would allow the State Lands Commission to terminate offshore oil leases by the end of 2024 if purchase agreements with oil companies cannot be negotiated beforehand. The bill would affect only three operating offshore oil platforms in state waters along the Orange County coast. The 23 oil platforms in federal waters, which are farther off the coast, would not be affected.
Though both oil producers and California’s powerful trade unions oppose the bill, concerns expressed by some Democrats about the state’s potential financial liability pose one of the greatest obstacles to the measure. Although the legislation passed the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee, several Democrats said the measure’s fate may rest heavily on the price tag, which has yet to be determined.
“Money’s not printed on trees,” said state Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys. “So you’re saying we’re going to take this money out of foster care or we’re going to take it out of money that we need to build housing for homeless? We in government have an obligation, as we spend tax dollars, to balance this.”
State Sen. Dave Min, D-Irvine, the author of the bill, said SB 953 still faces “perilous hazards” as it winds through the Legislature. But he remains hopeful that as negotiations with the oil industry, environmental leaders and union representatives continue, the bill’s prospects will brighten.
Min filed the legislation after an October oil spill off Huntington Beach dumped an estimated 25,000 gallons into the ocean. Investigators suspect it was caused by a cargo ship anchor snagging a 17-mile-long pipeline that runs from an oil platform in federal waters to the Port of Long Beach.
“I think it’s clear that the risks posed by offshore drilling are not justified by their benefits. Offshore oil production in both federal and state waters in California accounts for less than 0.3% of annual production in the United States,” Min told the committee Tuesday. “At the same time, these offshore rigs threaten a vibrant California coastal economy that generates $44 billion a year in economic activity and employs over a half-million Californians.”