Research & Commentary: Drilling for Oil in Santa Barbara

Published August 21, 2009

Even with one of the worst state economies in the nation, the California Assembly rejected a proposal to allow new oil drilling off the coast of Santa Barbara. The proposal, if passed, would have raised an estimated $100 million this fiscal year and an estimated $4 billion over the next decade. According to George Skelton of the Los Angeles Times, the $100 million generated this fiscal year “could have saved the parks ($14 million), the program for abused and neglected children ($80 million) and community services for the elderly, including Alzheimer’s patients ($4 million).”

The proposed drilling also would have created many high-paying jobs for the region. California’s unemployment rate is higher than the national average, at a staggering 11.5 percent. The plan also called for the donation of 200 acres of ocean-view property for use as public parkland.

Offshore oil drilling has a proven track record as a safe and effective means of acquiring energy. Oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico weathered hurricanes Katrina and Rita with little or no spillage, according to the National Ocean Industries Association. Moreover, the proposal for Santa Barbara called for slant drilling, which means no new platforms would have been needed.

Drilling would help clean up the coastline. According to the National Academy of Sciences, 60 percent of the oil found in the North American marine environment comes from natural seepage through the ocean floor. Only 1 percent comes from offshore oil and gas development. Drilling and removal of oil allows for less natural seepage, hence cleaner beaches and a cleaner marine environment.

Offshore drilling and oil platforms also are more environmentally friendly than importing oil from other regions, as the proximity of the platforms to the U.S. mainland means less fuel is expended in transport. The platforms also support thriving ecosystems.

The citizens of Santa Barbara support more drilling, with 63 percent in favor of expanded drilling and just 29 percent opposed. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, 55 percent of California voters favor drilling. In coastal counties, 51 percent of residents now favor drilling, compared to 36 percent two years ago.

The public support for drilling may explain why, in an unusual move, the Assembly chose to purge the voting record on this bill: All records of votes on this measure were erased from the official state database.

The following articles provide useful information on oil platform drilling and the advantages of drilling off of California’s coast.


Oil and Gas Seepage From Ocean Floor Reduced by Oil Production
A study by the University of California Energy Institute and U.S. Minerals Management Service finds oil drilling reduces natural seepage and leads to cleaner beaches.

Sacramento Lacks Will To Drill
This article from the Orange County Register provides information on specific drilling legislation considered by the California Assembly.

Research Shows Little Effect From Arctic Offshore Oil Drilling; Study Reveals Thriving Oceanographic System
Research conducted by Florida Tech Oceanographer John Trefry for the U.S. Department of the Interior concluded, “impacts to the environment from offshore drilling were minimal. In fact,” Trefry noted, “the entire offshore area was near pristine. During the past four years we’ve continued to monitor the area and still have no evidence of significant impacts.”

California Assembly Expunges Votes On Oil Drilling Bill,0,1598055.story
This Los Angeles Times article explains why and how the California Assembly purged the voting record on the Santa Barbara offshore drilling bill.

Gov. Schwarzenegger Calls for Drilling off Santa Barbara Coast
This Environment & Climate News article provides background on the proposal before the California Assembly for drilling off of the coast of Santa Barbara. It also documents the increase in natural oil seepage when there is no drilling.

Eco Group Calls for Oil Recovery
Some environmental groups have called for offshore drilling as a way to reduce oil pollution of the sea and nearby shorelines and provide revenue for alternative energy incentives.

Lifting the Offshore Drilling Ban: A Positive Step in the Fight against High Energy Prices
David Kreutzer highlights the tremendous potential for creating revenue via offshore drilling … and the little risk involved.

California Drilling
Edwin J. Feulner of The Heritage Foundation describes studies of natural oil seepage and what steps can be taken to diminish the possibility of seepage ruining the coastlines.


Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this and other environment topics, visit The Heartland Institute’s Web site at and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

If you have any questions about this issue or The Heartland Institute, you may contact me at 312/377-4000 or [email protected].