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Oil hearings come to California
by Christina Aanestad
Wednesday Mar 11th, 2009 6:01 PM
The Department of Interior will hold one public hearing on the Pacific West Coast about its 5 year offshore oil, gas and alternative energy proposal. The announcement follows on the heels of a secretarial order making renewable energy development the Department’s top priority. The new policy still includes opening up leases for offshore drilling in the outer continental shelf, a move opposed by environmental groups.
The Department of Interior, Minerals Management Service will hold a public hearing on its new 5 year offshore oil, gas, and alternative energy development plan, April 16th at the University of California San Francisco Mission Bay Campus, San Francisco, CA. The meeting will begin at 9am. This is the only location for the Pacific region meetings-that includes Washington, Oregon and California.

Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says a focus on alternative energies is a new direction for the department, which previously focused on oil and gas developments.

Salazar has signed a Secretarial Order making the "production, development, and delivery of renewable energy top priorities for the Department." In essence, President Barak Obama has sacked the Bush administration's 5 year offshore oil and gas drilling proposal, in exchange for new one. The New 5 Year Draft Proposed Program for offshore energy development now includes areas for possible oil and gas leases, as well as alternative energy leases for developments like wave power.

Frank Quimby a public information officer with the Department of Interior, says next month’s hearings on the 5 year plan will include input on all energy possibilities in the OCS-outer continental shelf.

But California is still an area proposed for offshore oil and gas developments. The revised 5 year plan notes the oil and gas potential in Southern California. It also notes the potential in Mendocino and Humboldt counties., which includes leasing upwards of 44.7 million acres for oil and gas development by the year 2014. Another proposal would lease up to 2 million acres in the Point Arena Basin, mostly along Mendocino County’s coast line. Northern California has the nations 5th largest oil capacity-with an estimated 1.6 billion barrels of oil. According to the new 5 year plan, "Two companies expressed interest," in the hydrocarbon potential in Northern California
Salazar says while his office is prioritizing renewable energy development-oil and gas leasing is still on the table.

According to the new 5 year offshore energy plan, the Governor’s of Oregon, California and Washington are “opposed to including new areas for offshore drilling.” It also states that "Over 60 percent of the citizen comments in California are opposed to new offshore drilling, " and "Specific local comments were opposed to activity citing the sensitivity of the coastal environment."

The plan also notes the California Coastal Commission is opposed to new offshore oil and gas developments, and the state assembly has passed a resolution supporting the continued moratorium on offshore drilling.

For some regions, oil and gas development may not be the DOI’s primary focus. Salazar says his Secretarial Order is aimed at stream lining a backlog of renewable energy projects the bush administration left behind.

The new 5 year plan, also notes that Northern California has two tentative areas of interest for OCS wave energy. One in Humboldt County and another in Mendocino County. However, there are two proposed projects in Mendocino county. Pacific Gas and Electric, the state's largest energy provider, wants to develop a wave energy project in Fort Bragg and Green Wave Energy Solutions LLC, a private company backed by a Republican real estate investor, wants to develop a wave energy project in Mendocino.

Salazar did not mention much about wave energy, nor does the 5 year plan-it notes the wave power potential but says it remains in a research stage. Before the DOI gives the green light for renewable energy projects, Salazar says the Department will consider the environmental impacts.

The new 5 year offshore energy proposal will take 8 factors into consideration before granting leases for offshore developments. Those include economic impacts, impacts to existing resources and the ecology, the interest of oil and gas producers in the areas, and the laws of other states.

The 5 year plan also recognizes FERC, the federal energy regulatory commission's, authority over wave energy developments within 3 miles of the coastline. Salazar says his entire department will work with other agencies like FERC to create a process for renewable energy development.

Public comment on the new 5 year offshore energy plan is due September 21st.
And, for those wanting to provide public comment in person, the Department of Interior’s Minerals Management Service will hold a public hearing on offshore energy development in San Francisco on Thursday, April 16th, 2009, at the University of California San Francisco Mission Bay Campus.

To learn more and to submit public comment click on the link below: