BY PAT MURPHY
Copyright © 2009
U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar was greeted today in San Francisco by a chorus of political leaders and environmentalists urging him not to open federal waters off California to new oil drilling — and oil industry leaders laying facts on the table.
Salazar was in San Francisco for the last of four public hearings nationwide on the country’s offshore energy strategy, this one held at the University of California at San Francisco’s Mission Bay campus.
A federal moratorium on new offshore drilling was allowed to expire in 2008, and the Bush administration in its final months crafted a new five-year plan for the nation’s Outer Continental Shelf that included a proposal for new offshore oil leases.
“New drilling would be an environmental and economic disaster for our state,” U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-San Francisco, told Salazar.
“Our state is saying to you clearly today, no,” she said, as the audience in the packed hearing room erupted in applause.
Industry official Doug Morris insisted otherwise.
“I am Doug Morris, Group Director for Upstream and Industry Operations for the American Petroleum Institute, which represents nearly 400 companies involved in all aspects of the U.S. oil and natural gas industry, including exploration and production, refining, marketing and transportation, as well as the service companies that support the industry,” Morris began.
‘We welcome this opportunity to present the industry’s views on the Minerals Management Service’s proposed Five-Year Plan for Offshore Access.
“America’s oil and natural gas companies recognize that securing America’s energy future requires the development of all forms of domestic energy. We know that we also need a major focus on increasing energy efficiency and the development of alternatives, such as wind, solar and biofuels. Many of our companies are leaders in those fields and have been investing heavily in such technologies for years.
“However, oil and natural gas are the lifeblood of the nation’s economy and are vital to our energy security—and this will be the case for decades to come. They keep our transportation systems running, heat and cool our homes, and are the basic components of thousands and thousands of consumer products that we use daily—ranging from cell phone and laptops to golf balls and softball bats. They also provide the fertilizer and transportation systems that allow this country to be a major exporter of food.
“Oil and natural gas production from the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) plays a key role in supplying the energy our nation needs. However, most of this production comes from the Western and Central Gulf of Mexico. As demonstrated by the disruption caused by hurricanes several years ago, it is important that we diversify our sources of production and develop the large resources that are beneath the rest of the OCS. For the first time in many years, the Secretary of the Interior has the opportunity to increase the stability and security of domestic oil and gas resources by opening these areas—-and he should do so by moving forward in a timely manner with the draft proposed Five-Year Plan.
“Increased oil and natural gas development is vital to our nation’s economic recovery. This would mean new jobs, more revenues for cash-strapped local, state and federal governments, and greater energy security.
“These activities can move forward safely without harm to the environment. As noted by the MMS in the draft proposed plan, the industry has an “excellent environmental record that has been documented in detail.” New technology and scientific innovations have played a key role in this record. As a result of new innovations:
· We are finding more oil, with fewer wells, in more remote locations.
· We are now able to drill with great precision using steerable drill bits and hit production targets that are less than six feet across.
· We are also now able to reach out horizontally at great distances. Two years ago, a new record was set when a well from an onshore location tapped into an offshore filed that was located more than seven miles away.
· We are now producing gas from wells that are located in water depths greater than 9,000 feet — this was not thought feasible 20 years ago.
And finally, we now have the technology that allows us, in some cases, to reduce or eliminate visual impact arising from offshore development by installing equipment on the ocean floor rather than on offshore platforms.
“In summary, the U.S. oil and natural gas industry has an outstanding offshore environmental record and has clearly demonstrated that offshore development can coexist with clean oceans and clean coasts. The U.S. Outer Continental Shelf produces more than one million barrels of oil per day. Since 1980, less than one thousandth of a percent of that oil has been spilled. America cannot wait. We need to move forward with a Five- Year Plan that includes all areas of the OCS for oil and gas development.”
New leases are proposed at two locations off Southern California, and one off Point Arena, south of Mendocino, according to Salazar.
Salazar extended the public comment period on the five-year plan until September, but has not made any declaration about his intentions. A plan is expected to be made public later this year.
“We must and should hear from these communities that would be most affected by what happens offshore,” Salazar told the audience.
“And that’s what we are doing here today.”
Salazar was appointed by President Obama to head the Interior Department, which oversees U.S. parks, dams and reservoirs, and more than 1.7 billion acres of the nation’s offshore territories.
Salazar did say today that he felt one of the most important issues the country faces “is that we move forward with a new energy frontier,” addressing “the reality of climate change, which is here.”
He has expressed interest in the possibilities of developing renewable energy sources offshore, such as wind, tidal and wave power.
Outside the hearing, environmental groups protested against drilling, some singing and chanting, others dressed as polar bears, both as a statement recognizing the impact of oil drilling on climate change, and against Bush administration rules weakening the Endangered Species Act, they said.
California Lt. Gov. John Garamendi noted at today’s hearing that a 1969 oil spill from a platform in the Santa Barbara Channel leaked 100,000 barrels of oil into the water and marred 35 miles of coastline.
“Ever since then, California has said no, no, to new drilling off our coast and we repeat that today,” he said.
There are already 23 active oil platforms in federal waters off California, as well as four active oil platforms and five artificial islands with active wells in state waters, which extend up to three miles offshore. California has denied any new oil and gas leases in state waters since 1969.
Garamendi said new federal leases could also threaten the state’s coastline economy, which he said totals $45 billion.
“But it’s far more than that,” he said. The ocean “really is a spiritual thing for Californians,” he said. “And we do not want it fouled.”
Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski, and U.S. representatives Lynn Woolsey, D-Marin/Sonoma, Barbara Lee, D-East Bay, Grace Napolitano, D-Santa Fe Springs, and Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, also attended the hearing and likewise condemned any new offshore drilling.
Speier decried what she termed a national energy policy that had been “hijacked” by “drill, baby, drill.”
“It is now time to take a more responsible approach to managing our resources on the Outer Continental Shelf,” she said.
Following the morning portion of the hearing, Garamendi, a former deputy U.S. Secretary of the Interior under President Clinton, told reporters that he thought Salazar has “signaled where’s he’s going” with the issue.
“I believe that he will take these three new California lease proposals off the table,” said Garamendi.
“I do not believe he’ll allow new leases off the California coast.”
Ari Burack of Bay City News contributed to this report.
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