Offshore drilling backers promote project

lickforkabsorbingOil and Offshore

Nov 8, 2013 (3 years and 11 months ago)

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September 7, 2009
Offshore drilling backers promote project
By Mark Brown/Staff Writer/mbrown@santamariatimes.com
Sea lions lounge in the sun on the lower level of
PXP’s Irene oil platform.//Mark Brown/Staff
There are many vantage points to view the beauty of the Central Coastline. Perhaps

none is as controversial as the Plains Exploration and Production company’s oil

platform Irene.
On a recent afternoon PXP personnel ushered a handful of the journalists into a

helicopter for the 12-minute journey from the Santa Maria Public Airport to Platform

Irene, located in federal waters about five miles off the coast of Vandenberg Air

Force Base.
Irene continues to be a flash point for the debate over the future of oil drilling off

California’s coast. PXP’s desire to drill new wells from the platform has divided

environmental groups, legislators and public opinion.
After a series of setbacks for PXP’s proposal — known as the Tranquillon Ridge

project — to slant drill into state waters from Irene, the company is hoping to “get the

facts out” about what it sees as an oil harvesting program that would satisfy some

environmental organizations, make the oil company a lot of money and inject billions

into the state’s coffers.
“The project itself is up to $4 billion in royalties for the state of California,” said Steve

Rusch, PXP’s vice president, speaking from Irene’s helicopter pad. “That’s pretty

significant when people are being put out of work and health-care programs are

being cut.”
PXP is now touting a new, company-funded survey it says shows that two-thirds of

Californians familiar with the details of the Tranquillon Ridge program would like to

see it approved. The company has not yet released the full details of the survey.
Santa Barbara Assemblyman Pedro Nava, a Tranquillon Ridge opponent, is

skeptical that PXP is capable of commissioning an unbiased and objective survey,

and questions why PXP is discussing the results before releasing it in its entirety.
“I have asked PXP for the complete survey and results and have received nothing,”

wrote Nava in a recent press release. “The underlying PXP proposal was

confidential, and it looks like PXP intends to keep the full poll a secret as well. PXP

should expect continued public skepticism until they fully disclose what they are

doing.”
As part of the Tranquillon Ridge proposal, PXP has offered the state nearly 4,000 of

acres of Central Coast land, a $100 million advance on royalty payments and a

guarantee that Central Coast drilling platforms would cease operations within 14

years.
Santa Barbara County could benefit from $200 million to 313 million in property-tax

revenue, according to county staff.
But the project faltered in January, when the California State Lands Commission

shot it down, and again on July 24, when the state Assembly failed to approve it after

it passed the Senate with bipartisan support.
The project’s failure in the Assembly surprised PXP, given that the proposal had the

backing of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and several environmental groups,

including the locally-based Environmental Defense Center.
The EDC cited the end of coastal drilling as a primary reason for its support of the

project. Rusch said the company is unlikely to cease operations should the proposal

fail.
“All of those benefits will not be realized, and it basically guarantees that this facility

will be operating greater than 14 years,” he said.
But many environmental groups oppose any expansion in drilling off California’s

coast, regardless of time limits and other incentives.
“The fact is that cutting this deal would increase drilling in our state’s waters,” said

Gina Goodhill of Environment California, adding that 93 environmental groups are

opposed to the project. “Despite technological gains, oil drilling can still be extremely

dangerous. Just two weeks ago there was a huge spill in Australia.”
Goodhill was referring to a spill off the northwest coast Australia. According to news

reports, the leak started in a well under a rig operated by a Thailand-based

petroleum company, spreading an oil slick 70 nautical miles into the Timor Sea.
PXP intends to continue its push to convince the people and politicians of California

that tapping the state’s offshore oil reserves can be financially and environmentally

beneficial for the state. Rusch said the company isn’t solely focused on gaining

approval through the Lands Commission or legislation.
“We don’t care what the vehicle is to get there,” he said. “It’s a win-win. Why not do

it?”
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