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Disaster Puts New Pressure on Occidental Plans

July 08, 1988|TED VOLLMER | Times Staff Writer

The main opponents of Occidental Petroleum Corp.'s plans to drill for oil in Pacific Palisades called Thursday for Occidental to abandon its project in the wake of the tragic explosion aboard a North Sea oil and gas rig.

Councilmen Zev Yaroslavsky and Marvin Braude said the Wednesday night tragedy on Occidental's off-shore platform underscores the human risks associated with drilling operations. At least 163 people were feared lost in the disaster believed to have been triggered by a gas leak.

"The risks of oil drilling are substantial, and they mitigate the risks as much as they can," Braude said. "I'm sure they mitigated the risks in the North Sea, and I have nothing but sympathy and compassion for the people who suffered from that.

'Risky Business'

"But I think (the explosion) confirms our feeling that oil drilling is a risky business."

Yaroslavsky, who co-sponsored a November ballot initiative that would repeal three 1985 ordinances permitting Occidental's Palisades drilling plans, said it would be "preposterous for any governmental entity to permit (the Occidental project) in light of what occurred. . . . "

Yaroslavsky added that all of the assurances given by Occidental in trying to win the drilling rights "ring hollow in light of what happened."

Braude and Yaroslavsky have scheduled a news conference for this morning, in which they will demand that Occidental drop its Palisades drilling project. Neither expressed any confidence that the oil company, which has fought for the project for nearly 20 years, will comply with the request.

Shortly after learning of the scheduled news conference, attorney Mickey Kantor, chief spokesman for a competing initiative sponsored by Occidental to protect the company's drilling rights, assailed the two councilmen.

"I'm deeply disturbed that they are trying to take political advantage of a human tragedy," said Kantor, whose law firm represents Occidental. "They know, you know, we know, there is no connection between off-shore drilling in the North Sea and the Palisades project. They know that this drilling platform is older technology . . . located in one of the more vulnerable seas in the world.

"It's impossible to imagine they are going to exploit this tragedy to their political advantage," Kantor said. He added that "if an airliner crashes somewhere, we don't ground all airliners in the world."

In the past, most of the safety concerns raised by drilling opponents centered on the project's location near earthquake faults and at the bottom of a bluff that has experienced landslides. Occidental has insisted that it will provide safeguards against such problems.

Braude and Yaroslavsky said they also will seek to appoint "independent" experts to examine the North Sea accident and whether there might be parallels with the onshore Palisades drilling project.

The two councilmen noted that while the 2.5-acre site across the Pacific Coast Highway from Will Rogers State Beach is not adjacent to homes, it is near popular recreational areas, making it, in Braude's words, "grossly inappropriate."

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