It’s not often that US Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar delivers a speech to polar bears, dolphins, jelly fish and sea turtles, who all sit intently on chairs in the audience. It’s not every day that you see surfers covered in chocolate oil spills.
Salazar was making the opening remarks to a public hearing on the contentious issue of oil drilling off the coast of California, in San Francisco.
It was the fourth and final stop on Salazar’s national tour to gage public reaction to his agency’s proposal to open up more than 1 billion acres for petroleum development off the nation’s coasts. The hearing was packed with drilling opponents as well as politicians. But the over-riding consensus was: No.
“Our state is saying clearly to you today, no,” Senator Barbara Boxer told Salazar at the opening of the hearing at the UC San Francisco Mission Bay campus. The California Democrat said the state’s coastline is a huge economic asset “just as it is.”
She was not the only politician opposed to the plan. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Resources Secretary Mike Crisman, as well as local county political leaders all said they did not want the risk of spills and industrial activity for a short-term supply of crude oil.
But big-oil supporters tried to put their case too. “Right now we import 60 to 65 percent of our oil from a foreign country,” argued Joe Sparano, president of the Western States Petroleum Industry, to hisses from the audience. “There are 10 billion barrels of oil off the shore of California. That would allow us to replace California’s foreign imports for 35 years.”
A decision is expected sometime after September. In the meantime, drilling opponents are taking nothing for granted. Boxer, said she will introduce a bill next month to reinstate the national moratorium. “I would hope the likelihood of new drilling is slim to none,” she said. “But there is no resting when you have an asset like the California coast that is so perfect left alone. You have to protect it very hard. You cannot be complacent.”