PD Editorial: Inland hearing won’t silence drilling critics



The ocean views in Sacramento are … well, there are no ocean views in Sacramento.

Perhaps that’s why U.S. Interior Department officials picked the state capital for its only California public hearing on a misguided proposal to open the Golden State’s 1,100-mile coastline to offshore oil and gas development beginning next year.

But an inland hearing, convened on a midweek afternoon, won’t turn back a king tide of public opposition to the drilling plan.

More than 1,000 people joined an anti-drilling march Saturday in Santa Cruz, with hundreds more protesting in Santa Monica, Laguna Beach and San Diego. Another big crowd is expected today for a demonstration prior to the hearing.

“We’re going to see fireworks in Sacramento,” said Richard Charter of Bodega Bay, a senior fellow at the Ocean Foundation.

The message is clear: Californians, including Republicans living in coastal areas, are strongly opposed to any expansion of offshore drilling. We’re fortunate that the state’s economy is diverse, but many residents are dependent on coastal tourism and, especially along the North Coast, fishing. The state’s coastal economy generates $40 billion a year, and the damage from a repeat of the 1969 blowout in the Santa Barbara Channel would be immense.

That threat would be magnified by the Trump administration’s intention to roll back safety regulations for offshore drilling platforms, including relaxing oversight of technologies such as the blowout preventer that failed in the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

To what end? There is no energy crisis to justify a dramatic expansion of offshore drilling in some places opening stretches of coast that have been off limits to the oil industry since the mid-1980s. Domestic production is at record levels, imports are down correspondingly, the U.S. is on pace to become a net exporter of oil within the next decade, and today’s low prices — about $65 a barrel — may be too low to justify the cost of offshore development.

As for California, this already is the third-largest oil producing state in the nation. We’re doing our share without turning our world-famous coast over to oil development.

And, despite the president’s persistent denial of climate change, it’s vital that we reduce our reliance on, and even phase out, fossil fuels. The cornerstones of U.S. energy policy should be developing clean sources of renewable energy, as China already is, and promoting, as California already is, a transition to emission-free vehicles.

California isn’t the only state facing the threat of oil derricks on the horizon. Neither is the Golden State alone in its opposition.

Governors, senators and House members of both parties objected when Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced plans to 47 new offshore leases, including six in California, for oil and gas development. So did ordinary citizens up and down the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coasts.

So far, only Florida, a state where President Donald Trump has extensive coastal real estate holdings, including his Mar-a-Lago resort, has been granted an exemption.

If you think that’s a coincidence, you might be interested in buying some oceanfront property in Sacramento.