An agreement to expand drilling in waters controlled by California was announced Wednesday by Plains Exploration & Production Co. (PXP) and environmental groups.

The plan, if approved by California and federal officials, would allow PXP to drill the first new offshore wells in 40 years. PXP, which now operates four platforms in California’s offshore waters, also agreed to cease existing production within 14 years. State officials would enforce the pact, which resurfaced late last year (see Daily GPI, Oct. 6, 2009).

“This plan sends only one message — and it sends it load and clear: we are willing to go the extra mile to end the drilling along our coast,” said Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA). “This is not a decision that we’ve made lightly. It’s one we looked at closely. But, the bottom line is this: this plan puts an end to existing oil drilling off our coast and it will prevent any future drilling…It’s transparent. It’s accountable. It’s smart.”

The final agreement for the 2010 Tranquillon Ridge Oil & Gas Project and Land Conservation Agreement was crafted by PXP, the Environmental Defense Center (EDC), Citizens Planning Association of Santa Barbara County and Get Oil Out!

If the Tranquillon Ridge project is approved, PXP agreed to shut three of its offshore platforms in nine years and to shut the fourth platform in 14 years. The producer also agreed to donate about 4,000 acres of state land. In addition, PXP would be required to forfeit any profits from the project if it fails to shut down the platforms when agreed, according to EDC.

PXP wants to drill more wells at an angle from one of its existing platforms. The “slant” drilling could allow PXP to reach hydrocarbon deposits underneath the waters, it said. To proceed, the agreement requires approval by the California State Lands Commission, the California Coastal Commission and the U.S. Minerals Management Service. The three-member Lands Commission rejected a similar drilling proposal in early 2009 on a 2-1 vote (see Daily GPI, Feb. 2, 2009).

Agreeing to an enforceable pact with PXP could close a gap in coastal protections after President Obama proposed new offshore drilling plans last month. Because PXP already is operating in federal waters off Santa Barbara, the producer would be able to drill indefinitely without an agreement, EDC said.

PXP said it would ask the Lands Commission to decide on the revised plan before the end of this year.

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