Lieutenant Governor Newsom Sounds Death Knell for New Offshore Oil Drilling Proposal 

 February 9, 2017

SACRAMENTO – An oil company’s quest to increase oil drilling in California’s state waters was dealt a significant blow at this week’s State Lands Commission meeting. Venoco, which operates the only oil drilling platform in state waters, has proposed to expand its existing leases offshore the city of Goleta, near Santa Barbara. If approved, the South Ellwood project would constitute the first new or expanded lease in state waters since the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill. But after listening to public testimony decrying the proposal, Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom responded, “That project’s dead.”

Newsom’s comment echoes those made by State Controller Betty Yee in a statement last week reaffirming her opposition to new oil drilling off California’s coast – including the expansion proposed in Venoco’s application. “Oil drilling must not be expanded,” Controller Yee announced. “The Santa Barbara Channel is a world-renowned habitat that hosts vast terrestrial and marine diversity that deserves protection from the adverse environmental impacts of further oil drilling.”

Linda Krop, Chief Counsel of the Santa Barbara-based Environmental Defense Center, greeted the news with enthusiasm. “The State Lands Commissioners’ opposition to Venoco’s plans to expand drilling offshore Santa Barbara County represents a significant step towards protecting our environment, public health, and economy, all of which rely on a clean coast,” she said. “The oil pipeline spill in 2015 is a recent reminder of the harm caused by these offshore oil projects – in fact, oil from Venoco’s platform was in that pipeline when it ruptured along our coast. We applaud the statements made by Controller Yee and Lt. Gov. Newsom, which make clear the unacceptable risks posed by more oil drilling off our coast.”

Santa Barbara County residents have long lived in the shadow of the oil operations off their coast. Oil spill fears were revived as recently as 2015, when an All American Plains pipeline broke, spilling more than 140,000 gallons of crude oil at Refugio beach, a disaster that killed sea lions and birds, caused several beach closures and left oil Platform Holly non-operational.

At the Commission’s meeting, advocates for coastal protection pointed out that approving an expanded oil lease and allowing new drilling in state waters would contradict the Commission’s own unanimously approved December resolution opposing any further oil development in federal waters off California’s coast. The resolution, like a similar one made by the California Coastal Commission, was prompted by concerns over what new federal energy policies might be.

“Given the change in the federal administration, maintaining a strong anti-oil, pro-coastal protection message is critical,” Surfrider Foundation California Policy Manager Jennifer Savage told Commissioners during the meeting’s public comment period. “The proposed expansion would further subject Santa Barbara residents for risks they’ve struggled to diminish for decades now,” she continued. “It’s simply not fair.”

Natural Resource Defense Council Ocean Advocate Sandy Aylesworth detailed a similar stance. “Expanding oil extraction in state waters clearly contradicts… the Commission’s December resolution and sends the wrong signal to the federal administration, Aylesworth said. “An expansion would threaten California’s credibility as a leader in combating climate change at a time when state leadership is essential,” she said.

Sierra Club California Director Kathryn Phillips listed examples of potential harm Venoco’s project would cause and echoed previous speakers saying approval would “send a signal to the Trump administration that California’s coast is open to oil drilling.” Phillips asked the Commissioners to direct staff to “reject any new drilling in state waters and any new proposals in state waters.”

After Phillips spoke, Lt. Gov. Newsom broke into public comment. “I wanted to just say that project’s dead,” he said, observing that he was sharing his opinion on the proposal as the Controller had expressed hers, before moving briskly on. With two of the three voting members of the State Lands Commission now publicly opposed to the project, environmental advocates are optimistic that California’s longstanding opposition to new oil drilling will remain intact, at least in state waters.


The Environmental Defense Center

The Environmental Defense Center, a non-profit law firm, protects and enhances the local environment through education, advocacy, and legal action and works primarily within Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo counties. Since 1977, EDC has empowered community-based organizations to advance environmental protection. EDC’s focus areas include protection of the Santa Barbara Channel, ensuring clean water, preserving open space and wildlife, and addressing climate and energy. EDC represents the Sierra Club Los Padres Chapter, Get Oil Out! and Citizens Planning Association in opposition to Venoco’s South Ellwood Projec.. Learn more about EDC at EnvironmentalDefenseCenter.org.

Surfrider Foundation

The Surfrider Foundation is a non-profit grassroots organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of our world’s oceans, waves and beaches through a powerful activist network. Founded in 1984 by a handful of visionary surfers in Malibu, California, the Surfrider Foundation now maintains over 500,000 supporters, activists and members, with more than 80 volunteer-led chapters and 60 clubs in the U.S., and more than 400 victories protecting our coasts. Learn more at surfrider.org.


The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 2 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world’s natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, Montana, and Beijing. More at nrdc.org.

Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 2.4 million members and supporters. In addition to helping people from all backgrounds explore nature and our outdoor heritage, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit sierraclub.org.

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