Question: to drill or not to drill?

Just when Californians thought it was safe to get back in the water, the sight of oil drenched birds and blackened waters began to appear on the nightly news.

The Gulf Coast oil spill and its gruesome images have now been seared into the collective conscious of the nation.

For the California legislature, it has planted the seed of doubt in, what was to be, a financial boon to the state economy, the Tranquillon Ridge oil drilling project.

Gov. Schwarzenegger’s sudden withdrawal of support for offshore drilling has hit those in favor of the T-project as impulsive, unsupported by facts and detrimental to California’s economy.

The T-project, which was endorsed by Governor Schwarzenegger, until he withdrew support on May 3, would have allowed the leasing of new oil platforms off the coast of Santa Barbara. The proposal which was set to be included in the CA 2011 state budget was a controversial, if not unpopular, one.

The upside of drilling? An estimated $100 million a year revenue for the state. The downside? The potential for tar smothered birds and environmental catastrophe as can be seen on any major news network coverage of the Gulf coast right now.

“The space program was not abandoned because of the shuttle explosion,” said Barbara Shook, Houston Bureau chief for Energy Intelligence Group, “and people do not stop flying because of airline crashes,” she reminded us. “Oil is still needed to lubricate even the windmill farms approved recently off Massachusetts.”

While I find Shook’s comparison of the Gulf Coast spill (which affects an entire ecosystem) to the handful of human casualties lost to technical difficulties aboard air and space craft offensive, I am inclined to agree with her that Schwarzenegger’s impulsive reversal of support for the T-project is based on emotion rather than logic.

Conditions surrounding the Gulf Coast oil rigs and the proposed drilling to take place off the coast of Santa Barbara cannot be compared. Where the deep sea drilling in the Gulf coast required floating platforms, the T-project would make use of fixed platforms in shallower water making them more accessible and more stable.

California’s T-project, supported by Santa Barbara environmentalists, would have ensured the early closure of four currently-operating offshore rigs.

“Schwarzenegger’s position now seems to contradict itself – that if he’s really worried about the danger of a major oil spill, he would have continued to support a proposal that called for a shutdown of four platforms, platforms that currently can operate indefinitely,” said Linda Krop of the Environmental Defense Center of Santa Barbara in a press conference following Schwarzenegger’s announcement.

Another pull in favor of offshore drilling? The money. Yes, I know it’s all so unsavory, the discussion of money when ecosystems hang in the balance, but it must be taken into consideration. The revenue generated by the T-project was expected to fund and support California state parks.

“With this withdrawal of the Tranquillon Ridge proposal, the Governor’s current budget for 2010-11 contains no general fund money for state parks,” states the California State Parks Foundation on the subject of the T-project.

Aside from the environmental risks involved with drilling and the fiscal implications of not drilling, I have to ask myself how I feel morally about the issue.

I am not a “drill baby drill” proponent. In fact, as an environmentalist, the idea of off shore drilling is impulsively repugnant to me. I would much rather see our efforts to enhance green technology doubled or tripled than to see a giant oil platform materialize off California’s shore line. Still, I must admit, that as I sit in heavy traffic on the 8 freeway, on my way to enjoy the pristine California shoreline, a feeling of hypocrisy overtakes me.

California, infamous for her car culture, harping about the production of oil off her shoreline is ridiculous. What are we saying? We are quite inclined to make use of the oil, but not to produce it?

All I’m saying is, “take stock of the facts before you jump on any bandwagon.”

Evonne Ermey is the City Times features editor

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Question: to drill or not to drill?