A proposal by the federal government to open 1.3 million acres off the California coast for oil exploration and production drew heavy criticism from state and local officials testifying before a congressional committee today.
Opponents of the porposed sale of 240 tracts on the western outer continental shelf charged that commercial drilling could have disastrous consequences for the coastal environment, the state fishing industry and Carlifornia's air quality standards.
Critics also told the House Select Committee on the Outer Continental Shelf that the amount of oil and gas involved in the sale of the tracts to private oil companies would deplete a future energy source while contributing little to the national effort to produce more petroleum.
"It is a dangerous 'drain America first' policy," chared Albert F. Reynolds, director of environmental resources for California's Santa Barbara County. "Th outer continental shelf leasing program appears to be more of an emotional and political palliative than a genuine solution.
"Yet we are asked to risk our clean air and coastline . . . for this non-solution to our national energy needs," Reynolds said.
The opposition to the our national energy needs," Reynolds said.
The opposition to the proposed federal sale underscored the problems the Carter administration faces in determining which regions of the country will be tapped to help meet the nation's energy needs.
The area under dispute extends from California's northern border to the city of Santa Barbara. The U.S. Department of Energy is studying the environmental impact of exploration on the tracts of ocean bottom up for sale; the ultimate yield, it is estimated, could be a billion barrels of oil and a trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
"The United States faces an energy crisis of substantial proportions," said Deputy Assistant Secretary of Energy R. Dobie Langenkamp in defending the proposed sale. Noting that President Carter called last spring for "accelerated outer continental shelf leasing," Langenkamp, said "it is of great importance" to conduct planned sales on schedule.
Langenkamp's claim, however, was disputed by Gregory Fox, senior energy adviser at the California Office of Planning and Research. Fox contended the sale was unnecessary in the face of what he called the state's "future oversupply of crude oil" and an estimated surplus of "one million barrels per day by 1985."
Fox added that a recently concluded sale of inland federal oil reserves in southern California will result in the production of "80 times the amount of oil" potentially available in the offshore lease area.
Other opponents of the sale argued that the oil yield was not worth the possible environmental damage drilling could cause.
They charged that new offshore oil production would require additional tanker traffic and refinery capacity in the state, both of which would contribute to California's already serious air pollution problem. Moreover, any repetition of the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara would be catastrophic for the California coastline and the state's fishing industry, the critics claimed.
Virtually every state and local official testifying today also charged the Department of Energy had ignored their complaints, limited their input into the lease review process and had produced inadequate environmental impact reports on the proposed sale.
Deputy Undersecretary of Interior Barbara Heller defended the government's handling of the lease sale, saying hundreds of local officials had been contacted by the department since review began in 1977. She said the energy secretary approved sale of only 1.3 million of a proposed 8.5 million acres in the tract, and insisted the review process was "open, effective and fair."
The congressional hearings resume Thursday 30 miles north of here in Point Reyes, with testimony expected from environmentalists and county supervisors.