California has successfully fought the issuance of new offshore drilling leases since the disastrous Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969, but the U.S. Air Force is processing a request by oil companies to use its Vandenberg base for slant drilling out into the ocean.
Companies have been trying for nearly a decade to win offshore drilling approval from the military, the State Lands Commission, Santa Barbara County and the California Coastal Commission, but this push by Sunset Exploration and ExxonMobil seems to have some traction, at least in the Air Force.
The Air Force did not support a proposal by Sunset in 2006, which was enough of a reason for Santa Barbara County to reject its application. But this time around, it sounded more enthusiastic.
“Initial information obtained by the Air Force indicates there may be potential for new technology slant drilling capable of targeting oil deposits off Vandenberg Air Force Base's coastline from locations with minimal or mitigable mission/environmental impacts,” Air Force Space Command spokesman Master Sgt. Kevin Williams wrote in an email to the Los Angeles Times.
The 22-square-mile base in Santa Barbara County is no stranger to oil drilling; it has five active wells already on site. But none use extended slant drilling technology to go offshore. While the Air Force told the Times its operation would be “the antithesis of offshore drilling” because the drill bit would be situated a half-mile beneath the service, environmentalists were skeptical.
“We have tremendous concerns about their proposal,” Environmental Defense Center chief counsel Linda Krop told the Times. “It would threaten migrating whales and other important species with oil spills and other impacts that result from offshore oil drilling.”
There are currently 21 offshore oil and gas leases along the coast of Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties, mostly in federal waters. Some of the leases cover slant drilling from land. Periodic efforts to increase access to offshore oil and gas have intensified in recent years at the state and federal level.