SAN DIEGO — The California Coastal Commission on Tuesday gave its approval for construction of the first oil platform to be located in the North Santa Maria Basin, 10 miles off the San Luis Obispo County coast.
The 7-5 vote on Cities Service Oil & Gas Corp.'s Platform Julius came over the objections of the commission staff, environmentalists and the counties of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, who fear the project will have negative impacts on air quality and on the endangered northern sea otter.
If finally approved by San Luis Obispo County, the platform west of the city of Santa Maria and Point Sal would be the first of seven envisioned for construction in the San Miguel Field that eventually could produce 125,000 barrels of oil a day.
Officials for Cities Service, a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum Corp., estimate that the 70 wells to be drilled from Platform Julius will produce 40,000 barrels a day.
The Coastal Commission staff opposed the application because it would cause "significant, unmitigated impacts on coastal resources." The primary concerns are over possible oil spills in the open sea that would harm the sea otters and over air pollution that would be caused by oil production and the passage of crew and supply boats to and from the installation.
During a hearing Tuesday, a bank of Cities Service technical experts attempted to resolve the points at issue with the staff, agreeing verbally to either mitigate air pollution problems or purchase air pollution "offsets," which would entail paying for the elimination of pollution in other parts of the San Luis Obispo-Santa Barbara coastal area.
However, the company was insisting on a $2.5-million limit on the amount it would have to spend offsetting emissions from the crew and supply boats.
Santa Barbara Deputy County Counsel John Cohan called this "buying a pig in a poke" because, he said, there was no guarantee this would fully offset all the pollution problems caused by the project. San Luis Obispo County officials agreed.
In opposing the project, Rachael Saunders of Friends of the Sea Otter termed Platform Julius "the key to open the door to the sea otter range." She said the impacts of an oil spill would be disastrous.
The project needs the endorsement of San Luis Obispo County supervisors and the San Luis Air Pollution Control District. If approved there, the county's voters will have the final say over whether the onshore oil refineries connected to the project can be built. The voters were given that power in a ballot measure approved in November.
The platform would have undersea pipelines to the onshore processing plant and would utilize the most sophisticated technology to ensure against oil spills or leaks, according to company officials.