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Onshore Jobs Come With Offshore Oil

February 17, 1986|DONALD P. HODEL | Donald P. Hodel is secretary of the Department of Interior

During my tenure as Interior secretary, the issue of federal offshore oil and gas leasing in California continues to be one of my top priorities because of the importance of these resources to the future of the state and to the entire nation.

If we do not begin leasing in this decade, we will be unable to explore more of the promising offshore areas in California in the 1990s, thereby needlessly risking our economic future and national security.

Regulations already are in place that could provide an environmentally sound program responsive to the concerns of state and local officials. We do not have to choose between developing the resources or protecting the coast--we can do both.

Sound development is important for all of us, including California industries already reliant upon the sea. Tourism suffered greatly in the energy crises of the 1970s, and most likely it would be one of the first industries to suffer in a future crisis. Modern fishing fleets also run on oil, and have a stake in secure fuel supplies.

Headlines sometimes give the erroneous impression that the Interior secretary is waging a one-man campaign on behalf of the offshore program and a sound leasing schedule for the Pacific areas. But there is a broad array of support for the program among thoughtful people, not only in Congress and in other states but within California as well.

The reasons for support are compelling.

We need the 1 to 3 billion barrels, or more, of oil thought to be present in these waters. In 1984 America spent more than $1 billion per week on foreign oil, enough to buy General Motors, Lockheed Aircraft and Beatrice Foods. Such expenditures are a terrible drain on the economy, resulting in loss of jobs, often by those in our society most in need of opportunity.

During my 11 public meetings in California last August, numerous black, Latino and older residents stressed that offshore leasing meant jobs, business and reasonably priced energy. They said that preventing a repeat of the 1973-74 and 1979-80 energy crises was "a matter of survival." Small business owners noted that no leasing means no offshore activity, no market for their goods and services--and thus substantial layoffs, foreclosures and plant closings. They stressed that offshore oil doesn't mean just the big oil companies. You don't have to work offshore to have an "offshore" job.

About 135 companies in California alone provide goods or services to the big oil companies. About 30 such businesses are in the San Francisco area, miles aways from the nearest offshore platform. For example, the Bay Area's Kaiser Steel provides pipe and specialized marine equipment, and Ocean Routes offers detailed weather forecasting and related services essential to safe offshore operations. Lockheed Offshore Systems & Services in Sunnyvale makes both drilling and pollution control equipment. Vetco in Ventura produces equipment to prevent oil "blowouts" and offers extensive worker training programs on protecting the environment. Ecomar in Goleta does maintenance and study work under platforms--and harvests 5,000 pounds of succulent mussels a week from the platform legs for sale to some of the state's most posh restaurants.

Tourism industry representatives pointed out that tourism in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties--the hub of offshore leasing activity--has risen substantially in recent years: 28% in Ventura in 1984 alone and 225% in Santa Barbara since the 1969 oil spill.

Others noted that few offshore platforms will appear on the horizon, since each platform accommodates 40 to 90 wells and only a couple are needed to develop most fields. They said the claim that tourists might stay away is pure speculation, whereas it is solid fact that the effects of the Iranian revolution on our oil supplies devastated California's tourism industry. The fuel shortages cost 500,000 American jobs in the nation's recreation industries.

The development of California's untapped energy sources--which can, must and will take place in an environmentally sound manner--is essential to thousands of American jobs in literally every state in the union. More than 400 companies, from Massachusetts to Florida, Michigan to Oklahoma, provide services or manufacture equipment for offshore operators. These firms make everything imaginable, from giant rigs, platforms, ships and boats to protective clothing, computers and control instruments,

Each of these workers, in turn, supports several other jobs in different sectors of the economy: health care, real estate, teaching, restaurants, automotive, retail trade and so on. Take away their jobs, and the repercussions are felt throughout the economy.

Thus we must examine the entire issue and develop a national consensus. If we wait until the next oil crisis, it will be too late because it takes seven to 15 years after a lease sale to begin to get the energy to consumers. This is energy that will be needed a few years from now and to assure a strong beginning for the 21st Century. The time to begin is now.

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