California has opposed offshore drilling for decades, and for good reason

Platform Holly, an oil drilling rig in the Santa Barbara Channel, is being decommissioned. It was idled after an onshore pipeline ruptured in 2015.
Platform Holly, an oil drilling rig in the Santa Barbara Channel, is being decommissioned. It was idled after an onshore pipeline ruptured in 2015. California State Lands Commission via AP

It’s no surprise that many Californians are alarmed by a recent U.S. Department of Interior proposal to open our coastal waters to oil and gas exploration and production.

Californians care deeply about our 1,100-mile coastline and public beaches, which draw millions of visitors a years. Some will appear at a hearing Thursday in Sacramento held by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.


The state also is home to 124 state Marine Protected Areas, four National Marine Sanctuaries and four National Parks with ocean waters. These designations protect species and ecosystems and help fuel a vibrant coastal economy that generates more than $42 billion a year.

The state has been steadfast in its opposition to offshore oil and gas development for decades. No new offshore oil and gas leases have been allowed in California since a 1969 blowout off the coast of Santa Barbara fouled miles of shoreline; killed thousands of birds, fish and sea mammals; and devastated tourism and commercial fishing.

That damage spurred communities up and down the coast to adopt local ordinances in the 1980s to address oil and gas leasing. As mayor of Santa Cruz at the time, I was in the thick of a spirited debate over offshore oil and gas drilling and what locals could do. Santa Cruz city adopted an ordinance that requires any change in zoning for onshore oil and gas facilities to go to a vote of the people. The idea caught on, and at least 18 coastal cities and nine coastal counties – Santa Cruz, San Mateo, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, San Francisco, Sonoma, San Diego, Humboldt and Mendocino – now have similar laws on the books.

California’s opposition to offshore oil and gas development is neither partisan nor geographic; it is deeply ingrained across the state. Republican and Democratic governors alike have actively opposed it, and the governors of California, Oregon and Washington have joined together periodically to oppose efforts to renew and expand oil and gas leases off the West Coast, most recently in January.

California is working aggressively to develop one of the most robust and diversified energy portfolios in the world, including an electricity grid powered by solar, wind, geothermal and biomass renewable resources, and a transportation sector fueled with electricity, natural gas and biofuels. We are well on the way to meeting a renewable energy target of 33 percent by 2020 with a new goal of 50 percent by 2030. In addition, California leads the way in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving efficiency standards for buildings and reducing tailpipe emissions.

Expanding offshore and oil gas drilling as a long-term strategy to meet our nation’s energy needs is simply not sustainable, especially from both an environmental and economic perspective. We urge the Interior Department to heed the will of Californians and withdraw our state from further consideration for renewed offshore oil and gas development.

John Laird is California secretary for natural resources. He can be contacted at

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