Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday withdrew his support of a plan to expand oil drilling off the California coast, citing the massive oil spill that resulted from a drilling rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico.
The announcement assures that no new drilling will take place off the state's coastline in the foreseeable future because Schwarzenegger would have to include the drilling proposal in his May revision of the state budget.
Speaking at a news conference near Sacramento, the governor said television images of the oil spill in the Gulf have changed his mind about the safety of ocean-based oil platforms.
"You turn on the television and see this enormous disaster, you say to yourself, 'Why would we want to take on that kind of risk?'" Schwarzenegger said.
The Republican governor had proposed expanding oil drilling off the coast of Santa Barbara County to help close the state's $20 billion budget deficit. Democrats last year blocked a similar proposal, but Schwarzenegger renewed his support this year, saying it was a reliable way to increase revenue as the state grapples with an ongoing fiscal crisis.
On Monday, Schwarzenegger said his support had been based on numerous studies finding it was safe to drill. But now, "I see on TV, the birds drenched in oil, the fishermen out of work, the massive oil spill, oil slick destroying our precious ecosystem," the governor said.
A drilling deal struck in 2008 between some environmental groups and Plains Exploration & Production Co., known as PXP, was estimated to bring the state some $100 million. The Houston-based company was going to slant-drill up to 30 new shafts into state waters from an existing platform that is sitting in federal waters.
The governor's budget had set aside the $100 million from anticipated oil revenues to keep state parks open in the next fiscal year. The administration had estimated the drilling would have generated $1.8 billion in royalties for the state over the next 14 years.
Schwarzenegger said he would find another way to plug the state's budget deficit.
"If I have a choice to make up $100 million and what I see in Gulf of Mexico, I'd rather find a way to make up that $100 million."
Scott Winters, a spokesman for PXP, did not immediately respond to a phone call and e-mail seeking comment.
California's drilling plan still needed final approval from the three-member State Lands Commission. Schwarzenegger has one appointee and one ally on the commission, newly installed Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado. Schwarzenegger's announcement Thursday means all three commissioners are likely to oppose any efforts to expand offshore drilling.
The California coast was not part of President Barack Obama's announcement a month ago when he said he wanted to expand oil drilling off the Atlantic coast and in eastern portions of the Gulf. Including California would have been too difficult politically because of strong opposition within the state's congressional delegation and with environmental groups in the state.
A 1969 blowout on a Union Oil Co. platform off the Santa Barbara coast fouled miles of ocean and beaches and led to a moratorium on offshore drilling.
Currently, 27 platforms operate off the Central and Southern California coasts. They produced 13.3 million barrels of oil in 2009.
The PXP plan split environmental groups in California. Some conservation groups threw their support behind the plan in exchange for a promise that PXP's petroleum operations offshore from scenic Santa Barbara County would end in 2022.
But others worried the deal would open the door to expanded drilling along the entire California coastline.
Assemblyman Pedro Nava, a Democrat from Santa Barbara and a vocal opponent of the proposed oil drilling, said the governor's announcement sends a message to PXP to "pack up their tent and move on."
"I don't care when someone is converted to oppose offshore oil drilling, I'm just pleased when it happens," Nava said after hearing about the governor's decision.
The project was rejected by the State Lands Commission in early 2009 with the help of former Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, a Democrat. Since then, Garamendi was elected to Congress and Maldonado, a Republican who represents a long strip of the Central California coast, has taken his place. Maldonado has said he was open to the project but remained skeptical.
Associated Press Writer Don Thompson contributed to this report.
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