VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE (AP) — U.S. Air Force officials said they will study the economic and environmental feasibility of a proposal to lease land on Vandenberg Air Force Base to companies that want to drill for oil and natural gas on California’s central coast.
Mark Meier, chief counsel for the State Lands Commission, said the proposal, which is opposed by environmental groups, would require the first new offshore lease for drilling in state waters since the 1960s.
The proposal from Sunset Exploration Inc. and Exxon Mobil Corp. would employ a type of extraction called “slant drilling,” the Los Angeles Times reported. The drilling uses onshore equipment to reach offshore deposits, and it would have to be compatible with the base’s space missions.
Environmental groups have long fought drilling on California’s coast, saying it poses risks to marine life.
“This would be a new oil drilling project along a very biologically rich and sensitive area of the California coast. It would threaten migrating whales and other important species with oil spills and other impacts that result from offshore oil drilling,” Linda Krop, chief counsel for the Santa Barbara-based Environmental Defense Center, told the Times.
Sunset Exploration President Bob Nunn said the proposed operation is land-based and would avoid the marine environment, with its drill bit a half mile below the seafloor. He called it “the antithesis of offshore drilling.”
Sunset and Exxon tried to drill on the land in 2006, but their application was found incomplete by Santa Barbara County because the military didn’t approve it.
Military officials say Vandenberg has five active oil wells.
To advance, the project also needs approval from the State Lands Commission and the California Coastal Commission.