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Strange allies in politics of oil

Environmental groups support an offshore oil project in exchange for a firm shutdown date.

September 02, 2008|From the Associated Press

Environmentalists who oppose oil drilling off the Southern California coast will go before a county board next week to advocate for an oil company that wants to do just that.

The anti-drilling groups Get Oil Out and the Environmental Defense Center made a deal months ago to support Plains Exploration & Production's bid to expand drilling off one of its platforms in exchange for a promise that the company would shut down its local operations within 14 years.

This unusual deal has put the two conservation groups in an awkward position.

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 on Aug. 26 to send a letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger asking for a change in long-standing state policy to allow oil exploration and extraction in the county. The county has been considered an incubator of the environmental movement since a 1969 oil spill killed marine life and coated miles of beaches with oil.

This week, about 50 national and local environmentalists are expected to send their own letter to Schwarzenegger arguing that the state moratorium on drilling should not be lifted. Among those expected to sign are the two groups that made the deal with Plains Exploration.

But those groups also will appear before the county board Sept. 9 to support Plains Exploration in its bid to expand its drilling off a platform in the Santa Barbara Channel with a promise to shut down local operations by 2022.

A summary of the agreement between the environmental groups and Plains Exploration shows that the company also agreed to donate 3,900 acres of land to the Trust for Public Land and contribute $1.5 million to a fund that could be used to buy hybrid buses.

In exchange, the groups agreed not to sue to block the drilling and said they would lobby various agencies to let the company drill more. .

Linda Krop, chief counsel for the Environmental Defense Center, said she saw no difference between the position the groups had taken previously and the one they will take Sept. 9.

Although Plains would be allowed to drill for oil in the short term, the deal would phase out the drilling in the long term, she said.

"The whole point of the . . . agreement is that we are actually getting rid of oil operations," she said.

But their compromise with the oil company is an unusual break from environmental groups that have historically taken an unyielding stance against offshore drilling.

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