Secretary of the Interior Donald P. Hodel said Friday that he would not exclude Santa Monica Bay from consideration for oil and gas development.
"My understanding is that there's a very substantial resource potential in this area, and it seems to me that obviously, it is going to be something we're going to have to talk about," Hodel said.
Hodel's remarks were made to reporters after a hearing in which local leaders appealed to the Interior secretary to exempt the bay from consideration. Earlier this week, Hodel extended such exemptions to Big Sur and other scenic California coastal areas.
The hearing, held at the Los Angeles Convention Center, was part of a series of meetings convened by the Interior secretary to assess public response to a compromise plan for development of California's offshore resources. Throughout the week, however, Hodel has expressed reservations about crucial features of the plan and emphasized that it might undergo significant revision.
On Friday, Hodel suggested that Santa Monica Bay might be one of the areas reclassified. Under the compromise plan, which was negotiated between the Interior Department and some members of the California congressional delegation, the bay was included in a proposed moratorium on oil drilling until the year 2000.
Hodel noted that negotiations toward a final plan will resume in September, and the Interior secretary said he expects the issue of Santa Monica Bay to be raised.
He added that there has not been a good definition of what constitutes the bay.
"I suspect before this issue arose, Santa Monica Bay was defined much more narrowly than it now is. I don't think anybody really thinks that these areas that are 25 miles offshore are in greater Santa Monica Bay," he said.
The Interior secretary also rejected concerns that drilling in the bay would pose unreasonable environmental risks.
Citing the oil industry safety record since the 1969 Santa Barbara offshore well blowout, Hodel said, "If we are able to protect against spills . . . air pollution and so forth, we ought to be able to go into areas that are three or more miles from shore without having an adverse effect."
Responding to the secretary's remarks, Los Angeles County Supervisor Deane Dana noted that 75 million people visit the Santa Monica Bay area each year.
"Drilling in the bay is out of the question," Dana said.
Earlier in the hearing, Rep. Mel Levine (D-Santa Monica) served notice that he and other members of the California congressional delegation expect Hodel to stand by the compromise plan.
"Some voices in the oil industry, Mr. Secretary, regretably want everything they can get. It was the voracious appetite of the oil industry and the efforts of your predecessor (James Watt) to satisfy it that led (to) the (drilling) moratoriums," Levine declared.
Environmentalists and some congressmen have suggested that if the compromise plan undergoes severe changes, Congress would attempt to continue its 4-year-old drilling moratorium, which is scheduled to expire Sept. 30.
Under the compromise plan, oil and gas drilling would be allowed on 150 of 6,460 nine-mile-square tracts over the next 15 years. Twenty-seven of the tracts marked for development are located in an arc about 20 miles from shore in Santa Monica Bay, seven lie off Newport Beach and five off Oceanside.
No Commercial Value
During the past 10 days of meetings, oil industry representatives have claimed that most of the 150 tracts have no commercial value.
Earlier on Friday, Hodel met with Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley. The mayor complained that he was not consulted when Hodel and the congressmen were negotiating the preliminary agreement.
"We had no knowledge and were not involved with any of the discussions . . . and that raised some real concerns, because we tried mightily to get input on these issues," the mayor told reporters as Hodel sat at his side.
In a letter to Hodel, Bradley objected to several of the tracts set aside for drilling, including one off the Palos Verdes Peninsula and others off Huntington Beach, which the mayor said appeared "to be of only marginal interest to the oil companies but pose serious environmental risks, because they are so close to beaches and recreational areas."
Hodel also held a public hearing in Long Beach and spoke to the California Coastal Commission in Marina del Rey. He is scheduled to hold hearings today in Huntington Beach and Newport Beach.