Hearings Set For CA Offshore Lease Plan

The Interior Department's Minerals Management Service has scheduled public hearings on its draft environmental impact statement that covers delineation drilling proposed for undeveloped leases offshore Santa Barbara County, CA. The draft EIS evaluates impacts of proposed drilling on four undeveloped Outer Continental Shelf units.

The OCS units covered by the draft EIS include Gato-Canyon, in the western Santa Barbara Channel; Bonito, offshore Point Conception; and Purisma Point and Point Sal, both offshore Santa Maria Basin along the northern region of the county.

The proposed activities would include the sequential drilling of four or five delineation wells on the four separate units by a single semi-submersible drilling vessel. Delineation involves drilling one well to gather information about the nature and extent of oil and gas reserves in areas where discoveries have already been made.

In November 1999, California Gov. Gray Davis, an opponent of offshore drilling, joined the California Coastal Commission and the California attorney general's office in a lawsuit against the Interior Department to block extensions granted on 36 undeveloped oil and gas leases offshore Santa Barbara, San Luis and Obispo counties (see NGI, Nov. 22, 1999). At the time, Davis charged that the lease extensions (given by then-Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt) were granted without knowing the environmental impact.

The leases were issued between 15 and 31 years ago at a total cost to producers of about $1.2 billion. Nothing has ever been developed on them, but the drilling suspension was designed to enable the leaseholders to move forward with their production plans, subject to a new environmental analysis conducted by the Interior Department. Davis had wanted to Interior Department to withhold the lease extensions and allow them to expire.

The first public hearing on the draft EIS is scheduled for 1-5 p.m. on July 10 in Santa Barbara, and the second is from 1-5 p.m. on July 12 in Santa Maria. Comments are due to MMS by Aug. 13. Copies of the draft EIS are available on the MMS web site at www.mms.gov/omm/pacific.

For information on the hearings or to submit comments, contact MMS by mail at Pacific OCS Region, Attention: Delineation Drilling Activities Draft EIS, 770 Paseo Camarillo, Camarillo, CA 93019. Emails may be sent to delineationdrillingeis@mms.gov.

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