Offshore Oil Development Plans Proposed

Surfers wait for waves with an offshore drilling platform in the distance in Santa Barbara, CA. Photo: Berardo62, Flickr CC.
Surfers wait for waves with an offshore drilling platform in the distance in Santa Barbara, CA. Photo: Berardo62, Flickr CC.

On January 4, 2018, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke released a new proposal that would open nearly all offshore areas to new oil and gas development. Zinke’s draft plan would mandate 47 new offshore lease sales over the next five years, replacing a plan issued by the Obama administration that closed all new offshore oil development. Of the 47 sales, the draft plan directs that seven occur in California, with two off the Northern California coast, defined by the plan as the area starting around Point Arena in Mendocino County. e proposal is touted by Zinke as the “largest number of lease sales ever proposed.”

Immediately, Zinke’s proposal came under attack. Under pressure from Florida Governor Rick Scott, Secretary Zinke promised no new offshore oil development off Florida’s coast because “Florida is unique and its coasts are highly reliant on tourism as an economic driver.” Immediately, other governors highlighted that their coasts are unique and reliant on tourism. Zinke, however, has not granted a reprieve for other states.

It’s no secret that the North Coast has oil and gas deposits. e sleepy hamlet of Petrolia was home to California’s first oil well in June 1865 (hence the town’s name), drilled by the Union Mattole Oil Company for export to San Francisco refineries. ough the well never proved profitable, there’s plenty of oil and gas left untapped. Estimates from the 1980s project around one billion barrels of oil and over one trillion cubic feet of gas off the Northern California coast. For comparison, the United States consumed approximately 7.21 billion barrels of oil and 27.49 trillion cubic feet of gas in 2016.

There are five main deposits off the Northern California coast: the Santa Maria Basin off San Luis Obispo, the Eel River Basin off Humboldt County, the Point Arena Basin off Mendocino County, the Bodega Basin off Sonoma and Marin Counties and the Santa Cruz Basin off San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties. Our local Eel River Basin begins near the mouth of the Eel River and extends north to about the Oregon border, hugging the narrow continental shelf. Most of the gas hydrates (about 90 percent) are thought to be offshore, with a small portion onshore near the Eel’s mouth. A recent estimate of the available reserves found that the Eel River Basin has minimal oil, only .07 billion barrels of oil, but 1.52 trillion cubic feet of gas.

This onshore portion is currently being developed. e California Department of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (which has the wonderful acronym, “DOGGR”) shows 23 active gas wells, primarily located on Tompkins Hill outside of Loleta. Most of the active wells are recent in origin and include hydraulic fracturing—or “fracking,” in common parlance. Current test wells have shown that fracking can increase gas production. According to well developers, Humboldt’s gas deposits are “underdeveloped,” owing to the “relatively isolated position in California.” Four offshore test wells have been drilled in the early 1960s, which indicated the presence of some gas. Other abundant offshore gas seeps have been discovered.

Massive Environmental Impacts

Environmental Impact Statements from previous attempts to open the North Coast to drilling tell some of the “unavoidable impacts”: oil spills, ranging from small daily pollution to large-scale events, like the 1969 Santa Barbara spill; noise pollution, which will particularly affect marine wildlife; air pollution from emissions from offshore platforms; and other water quality pollution, from heavy metals to sediment.

Our local economy would also be impacted. Because gas deposits are near-shore, drilling platforms would likely be visible from shore. Onshore development would also be necessary to facilitate the drilling operations, turning our bucolic coastline into an industrial eyesore. Our local tourism economy would likely suffer as a result. Drilling would also affect the local fishing industry, with an anticipated 10-20 percenMt deaclrincehinesrevenue (not accounting for a major spill).

Our Coast is Too Precious to Drill

Here are three things you can do to stop offshore drilling or make it more difficult:

1- Comment on Zinke’s plan.
Let Interior Secretary Zinke know that the North Coast should be kept off limits. Comments are due March 9. Send comments to:

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (VAM-LD)
45600 Woodland Road
Sterling, VA 20166-9216

Or submit comments online at https://www.

2- Support state resolutions against offshore drilling.
Senator McGuire introduced SR 73 to declare the state’s opposition to offshore drilling; in the assembly, Assemblymember Wood introduced a joint resolution, AJR 29, that largely mirrors SR 73. ank Senator McGuire and Assemblymember Wood!

Senator Mike McGuire
1036 5th St., Suite D
Eureka, CA 95501

Assemblymember Jim Wood
1036 5th Street
Eureka, CA 95501

3- Restrict onshore development. While local governments can’t prohibit offshore drilling, they can stop onshore oil infrastructure! Let the Board of Supervisors and the Eureka City Council know that they should rezone waterfront land to prohibit onshore oil infrastructure. Write to:

Eureka City Council
531 K Street
Eureka, CA 95501

Humboldt County Board of Supervisors
825 5th Street, Room 111
Eureka, CA 95501


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