The specter of oil rigs looming off the Sonoma County Coast loomed closer when the Department of Interior announced the inclusion of 15,544 acres in a geological basin off Bodega Bay in the 18-month environmental study. The study is preliminary to possible lease sale to oil drilling companies.
The area, composed of eight 9 square mile tracts, stretches along a 12 mile line off the Marin and Sonoma coast lines. It is between 15 miles and 21 miles offshore.
The study will give the government information before it proceeds with letting the proposed leases.
“This decision does not mean that any of these tracts ever will be offered for lease sale – or even that there will be a lease sale,” an announcement by the department stated.
The draft of the study is due in April 1980 with hearing to follow in June. Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus is scheduled to make a decision on the lease sale on Feb. 1, 1981.
Opposition to inclusion of tracts off the Marin and Sonoma coasts came from the boards of supervisors of both counties, the Coastal Commission and Gov. Edmund Brown Jr., in addition to some local groups such as the Bodega Bay Fisherman’s Assn. and Friends of the Sonoma-Mendocino Coast, FOTSMC.
In September a delegation of California officials including Supervisor Eric Koenigshofer visited Andrus in Washington, DC to urge him to keep the North Coast area out of the study.
Koenigshofer and others have argued that oil drilling would destroy scenic values which are important for tourism, endanger the local fishing industry, and be risky because of the lack of technology available for containing oil spills.
Originally the Interior Department was considering a 10.7 million acre area extending from the Oregon border to near San Luis Obispo. After the oil companies designated areas they are interested in and the government eliminated environmentally sensitive areas, the remaining area to be included in the study totaled 1.3 million acres.
Divided between Marin and Sonoma counties, the tracts directly offshore would be 34,158 acres for Marin and 11,386 for Sonoma County.
Interest by 27 oil companies submitted “positive nominations” on tracts was termed “high” by department officials.
According to Richard Charter of FOTSMC, oil companies have been conducting their own geologic studies or contracting for information about the likelihood of finding oil and gas. Once they are convinced that it’s there, it’s going to be difficult to stop them, he feels.
Andrus has cited federal policy “of having all regions of the country contribute to meeting our domestic energy needs, and of balancing energy potential with environmental costs.”
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