Davis rejects proposed settlement of California offshore drilling lawsuit

By Don Thompson The Associated Press
Tuesday January 15, 2002

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Gray Davis on Monday rejected federal efforts to settle a lawsuit over the state’s right to review oil and gas leases off California’s coast. 

The U.S Department of the Interior is appealing a federal judge’s June decision that upheld the state’s right to review leases granted by the federal government decades ago. 

Davis rejected the proposed settlement because it would have required the state to give up that right, said Resources Secretary Mary Nichols. 

“The governor plans to fight this tooth and nail, all the way up to the Supreme Court if necessary,” said Davis spokesman Steve Maviglio. 

The state sued in November 1999 to block the Interior Department from reissuing, without state review, 36 leases originally issued between 18 and 34 years ago. The tracts range from northern Ventura County to southern San Luis Obispo County. 

The Interior Department referred calls Monday to the Justice Department, which is representing the federal government in the suit. A spokeswoman there had no immediate comment. 

However, the federal government previously has said the state will get a chance to review the 36 leases later, perhaps when the oil companies submit revised exploration plans if they eventually decide to drill. The leases let the companies do exploration and development work, which typically takes five to 10 years, but no drilling. 

Renewal constitutes “a very grave risk to the state of California and to our environment,” Nichols contended. Since the leases were first granted, California has established two marine sanctuaries and several species, including the southern sea otter, have been added to the endangered species list. In addition, a spill would damage the state’s beaches and commercial fishing industry, she said. 

Currently 20 massive oil and gas platforms operate off California’s coast, where they are visible from shore. Nichols said that proves the state is contributing enough to the nation’s energy needs — a sensitive topic since the state’s power woes last year led at times to rolling blackouts and calls for federal assistance. 

Much of the light crude has already been pumped, leaving behind “something that is closer to asphalt than something that you would put in your car,” Nichols said. “Basically this stuff is deadly to marine life, and it’s very hard to clean up.”