LONG BEACH — While cities up and down the Southern California coast have rejected a federal plan to open 150 ocean tracts to oil drilling when a 4-year-old moratorium ends this month, Long Beach officials have remained noticeably quiet.
"As of yet, we haven't given it much thought," Mayor Ernie Kell said last week before a Long Beach "town hall" meeting called by U.S. Interior Secretary Donald P. Hodel.
Kell did not attend the meeting, and no other Long Beach official publicly explained the city's position. Four of the offshore tracts, about 36 square miles, lie just south of Long Beach.
The City Council has not addressed the issue, suggested veteran Councilman Tom Clark, because it has not stirred much interest or controversy in this longtime oil town.
Since the first gusher here in October, 1921, oil has helped propel the local economy, he said.
The city's experience with the four oil islands that have stood off its coastline for two decades has also buffered the impact of the new proposal, he said. (By mid-1984, the city had received $151.5 million and the state $1.5 billion directly from the islands' production.)
"We're going to have a different attitude toward it than communities that have never had any drilling," Clark said. "We're more aware that it can be done properly."
Marv Haney, spokesman for the Chamber of Commerce on the issue and a one-time oilman, agreed. "I can't think of any community in California that would be more pro-offshore than Long Beach. You probably have 200 to 300 companies here that are either directly or indirectly affected by the offshore oil industry."
Many of those are large businesses, whose prosperity is felt in a ripple effect throughout the community, he said. During the recession of 1979-81, Long Beach prospered at least in part because the oil industry was booming, Haney said.
That is probably one reason why Long Beach residents have had little to say about new offshore exploration, while city, state and federal representatives from the Palos Verdes Peninsula, Orange County and Oceanside have complained bitterly about the possibility of more drilling, said Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Long Beach).
"(In Long Beach), we have learned to utilize that technology and live with it," he said.
Lungren and a spokesman for Rep. Glenn Anderson (D-Long Beach) said their offices had received hardly a word of protest or inquiry from Long Beach residents since Hodel's offshore agreement with several California congressmen was announced in mid-July.
Lungren, however, is one of its many opponents. "There is no rational criteria underlying this so-called compromise agreement," he said in an interview this week. "It allows drilling where there is no oil and no drilling where there is oil."
150 Tracts to Be Opened
He joined oil industry critics who have dismissed as commercially worthless all but 5% to 10% of the 150 tracts that would be opened.
The four tracts three miles off Long Beach and Seal Beach are not the least promising of the 150, but neither are they among the promising 5% or 10%, Lungren said.
One of those four tracts was leased by three oil companies from 1976 to 1981, but no oil was discovered, said Fred Jacobs, a spokesman for the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service in Los Angeles. The four tracts abut or are near four existing leaseholds that have producing wells off Seal Beach and Huntington Beach, he said. "There is some indication of productivity," Jacobs said.
Lungren said the tracts near the Palos Verdes Peninsula are "just about the lowest priority" for drilling. "Talking with people in the oil industry, there is just about no chance of those being drilled on," he said.
The compromise Hodel shaped in meetings with a select few California congressmen during June and July ran into trouble almost immediately, said Lungren.
"I was specifically excluded from those meetings by some members who wanted to negotiate without dissenting views," Lungren said. He and several other congressional Republicans, all of whom favor more aggressive oil exploration off the California coast, were not involved in the discussions, nor did he know of the compromise until it was announced, Lungren said.
A majority of the Republican members of the California congressional delegation have since sent a letter to President Reagan protesting the agreement, said Lungren.
Environmental groups supported the compromise, but the oil industry blasted it as little more than a continuation of the drilling moratorium.
Derricks Dot Coast
The criticism increased during Hodel's recent two-week swing through California. In Long Beach, at the ninth of 11 meetings from Eureka to Oceanside, Seal Beach Mayor Joyce Risner said the Hodel plan would place an "unfair burden" on the local coastline by opening up another 36 square miles to the oil companies. Derricks already dot the nearby coast, she noted.