In what amounts to a largely symbolic gesture, the elected Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 Tuesday night to support a resumption of drilling off its Southern California coast. The board agreed to write to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger urging him to reverse the state’s decades-long opposition to any additional drilling.

Prior to the evening vote, the county officials held a day-long hearing in which speakers varied from those concluding that current global oil prices, $4/gallon gasoline at the pump and improved drilling technology supported a drilling resumption to old-line opponents fearful of a repeat of the disastrous 1969 spill that struck beaches southwest of the city of Santa Barbara. Elected officials and residents in the city tend to adamantly oppose drilling, while residents and elected officials in other parts of the county support it.

Ultimately, the action is expected to have little impact on the long-standing ban because Schwarzenegger has consistently opposed a resumption of drilling.

“Unless you arrived here on a horse or walked or rode a bicycle, you are part of the oil industry,” said one of the five elected supervisors, Joni Gray, before voting in favor of the measure, according to a report Wednesday in the Los Angeles Times.

Historically, there have been organized pro-drilling (Bring Oil Back) and anti-drilling (Get Oil Out) citizen groups. The drilling supporters include a lot of people labeling themselves environmentalists who take the stance that the many natural seeps of oil into nearby ocean waters could be reduced through new drilling with the industry’s improved technology and safety record. They hope this argument will soften hard-core opponents.

County support currently hinges on the swing vote of one of the five elected supervisors, Brooks Firestone, who previously opposed offshore drilling. A former state legislator who is not running for reelection on the county board this fall, Firestone gives proponents a 3-2 edge in any votes taken this year, but his likely successor is opposed to a drilling resumption, so early next year the county elected officials could once again reverse themselves (see Daily GPI, Aug. 26).

Schwarzenegger has not indicated how he is leaning right now, but for the past two years, he and the other two West Coast governors for Oregon and Washington states have jointly agreed to oppose any offshore drilling resumption (see Daily GPI, Oct. 3, 2006).

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