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Watering the Oil Deal

September 01, 1985

Interior Secretary Donald P. Hodel seems to be talking himself out of the offshore-oil-drilling compromise that he reached with California members of Congress in July. As he toured the California coast in the past two weeks, he appeared to be collecting reasons for backing off the tentative agreement that would permit limited exploration and drilling but ban oil activity for most of the coast through the end of the century.

Maybe we didn't pick the right tracts for leasing to the oil companies, Hodel said at one stop. We didn't think about the effect on jobs, he said at Ventura, where oil workers were organized to protest the plan. Maybe the moratorium on the preserved tracts was for too long a period, he said during another hearing. And he mused that the effect of oil rigs in the ocean was a small price to pay for the good things in life that oil money can buy.

Hodel should consider such factors and then agree to stick to the bargain with no more than minor alterations. He should consider that the oil industry will not be happy with anything but a blank check to search for oil wherever it wants. He should consider the jobs created by the tourism generated by a well-protected coastal environment. He should consider the fact that oil rigs in themselves do constitute an environmental blight in an area where coastal living and recreation are such an important part of the social fabric.

The secretary also should consider the prospects for oil discoveries elsewhere, such as the Overthrust Belt in the Rockies--an area that held great promise until world oil prices fell. There are alternatives to coastal drilling, but this Administration seems unable to see beyond its well-worn maps of offshore oil tracts.

Should this deal unravel, there is one other alternative that Hodel should ponder carefully. That would be a renewed zeal in Congress for the blanket moratorium on California coastal waters that the oil companies have fought so vigorously.

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