Air Force Considers More Drilling Off California Coast

Vandenberg Air Force Base, possible site of onshore-offshore oil drilling | Photo: Night Owl City/Flickr/Creative Commons License

The U.S. Military has taken the lead in getting the nation off fossil fuels and onto renewable energy in a series of well-thought-out programs over the past few years. This isn't one of them. In an announcement Wednesday, the Air Force announced it would be studying the possibility of drilling slantwise from Vandenberg Air Force Base near Lompoc into oil reserves off the California coast.

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The announcement came with unusual support from California liberal Democrats John Garamendi, Third Congressional District Representative and usually a fan of renewable energy, and state schools chief Tom Torlakson, who built a reputation for impeccable green credentials during his stints as Assemblyperson and State Senator representing Contra Costa County

The announcement comes just weeks after House Republicans launched a long-shot effort to renew exploration and leasing of oil reserves off the California coast. The issue has been a bit of a third rail in California politics since the devastating Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969.

"We have tremendous concerns about [the Air Force] proposal," Linda Krop, chief counsel for the Santa Barbara-based Environmental Defense Center, told Bettina Boxall at the Los Angeles Times. "This would be a new oil drilling project along a very biologically rich and sensitive area of the California coast. It would threaten migrating whales and other important species with oil spills and other impacts that result from offshore oil drilling."

The sprawling 22-square-mile base in Santa Barbara County, home to several endangered species, has some onshore oil wells already in production. A 2006 attempt by Exxon to engage in slant drilling similar to that now being considered was thwarted when the Air Force didn't back the proposal. The Air Force's current consideration of slant drilling takes the form of an "Opportunity Assessment," in which the Air Force, Exxon, and the drilling firm Sunset Exploration will assess several spots on the base to see if so-called "Extended Reach Drilling" into offshore oil deposits is feasible from those spots.

If that drilling seems like it would work, the Air Force would consider leasing those sites to Sunset and Exxon. The Opportunity Assessment may take up to three months, at which point all applicable environmental assessment laws would kick in.

For ongoing environmental coverage in March 2017 and afterward, please visit our show Earth Focus, or browse Redefine for historic material.
KCET's award-winning environment news project Redefine ran from July 2012 through February 2017.

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