A clear day off Point Reyes reveals not just the familiar outline of the Farallon Islands but also an oil rig, it’s massive body supporting a drill that penetrates the seabed miles below. It’s a future that Marin’s Board of Supervisors will not tolerate.
On Tuesday, Supervisors Dennis Rodoni and Kate Sears brought a resolution before the board that supports a ban on all new drilling and fracking in federal and state waters off the California coast. It passed unanimously following a string of solemn public comments.
The county’s action comes in the wake of the Trump administration’s proposal, released on Jan. 4, to allow new offshore oil and gas drilling in nearly all coastal waters in the United States. The move would reverse directions for California, which has been closed to new leases since 1969, and open more than a billion acres in the Arctic and along the eastern seaboard.
“The waters off of Marin County are globally significant and provide a productive marine ecosystem, abundant wildlife and valuable fisheries,” Ashley Eagle-Gibbs, the conservation director for the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin, told the board. “These waters provide habitat for at least 25 endangered or threatened species, 36 marine mammal species, including blue, gray and humpback whales; harbor seals; elephant seals; pacific white-sided dolphins; threatened Stellar sea lions; over a quarter-million breeding seabirds; and one the most significant white shark populations on the planet.”
Ms. Eagle-Gibbs said the county’s coastline borders the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, nine marine protected areas and three special closures for breeding seabirds. She also cited the coast’s tourism value.
Her sentiments were echoed by numerous others, including a Lagunitas man dressed in a dolphin suit who said he was there to speak for that species.
Marin’s resolution declares the county’s support for a prohibition of any new federal oil and gas leases in the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic Oceans and the eastern Gulf of Mexico—areas currently protected from new leases. It also voices support for “a rapid phase-out of all oil and gas extraction off the California coast on a rapid schedule sufficient to respond to the global climate change crisis.”
Twenty-seven oil platforms currently operate off the state’s coast, primarily in Southern California. New drilling leases were banned in state waters after a major 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, and no new leases have been issued in federal waters off the state since 1984.
Numerous California cities and counties have passed resolutions opposing new offshore drilling and fracking, including Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties and the cities of Cayucos, San Luis Obispo, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Arcata, Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco.
The statements were prompted by Senator Barbara Feinstein, who sent a letter on Jan. 10 to 58 county boards across the state, urging them to pass such resolutions.
“A resolution to disapprove of new offshore drilling leases will send a clear, united message to the Trump administration that Californians value the well-being of our coastal community environments and expect relentless protection,” Sen. Feinstein wrote.
Citing what was at stake, she referenced the 1969 spill off Santa Barbara, involving three million gallons of crude oil, and another in 2015, when a pipeline spilled more than 100,000 gallons of oil at Refugio State Beach.
The movement to open coastal areas for drilling began last April, when President Trump signed an executive order requiring the Interior Department to reconsider then-President Obama’s five-year offshore drilling plan, which had used a provision of a 1953 law, the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, to block new lease sales in large portions of the Arctic and Atlantic.
Under Trump’s drilling plan for 2019 through 2024, which is available for public comment through March 9, the Interior Department would open 25 of 26 regions of the outer continental shelf, leaving only the North Aleutian Basin exempt. Seven of the areas would be in California, with northern and central coast waters opened in 2021 and southern waters in 2020.
Interior officials said they intend to hold 47 lease sales, including 19 off the coast of Alaska and 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, according to the New York Times.
Comments on the draft 2019-2024 National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program and associated programmatic Environmental Impact Statement should be submitted by March 9 on the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s website at https://www.boem.gov/National-Program-Comment/#submitcomments or by mail to Ms. Kelly Hammerle, National OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program Manager, 45600 Woodland Road, Sterling, VA, 20166-9216.