Friday, July 10, 2009

Drill California! Drill! Seepage NOT Production Threatens Beaches

The black glob on the beach is not a dead whale. It is a hunk of tar washed ashore, not from an oil rig, but from a naturally occurring seepage of oil from a vast underwater reservoir California has refused to tap.

The best way to ban oil is to use it all up, so, if you are an environmentalist you should say, "The sooner we burn this stuff the better!" In 2008 the state's offshore seabed produced 37,400 barrels of oil per day, while federal offshore tracts produced 66,400 barrels of oil. We'll never rid ourselves of big oil! At that rate your children will be facing the same environmental evils. Offshore oil is a ticking time bomb waiting to spoil the pristine wildlife sanctuaries environmentalists have always treasured. End it now. Use the oil!

Even without the deleterious scheming of greedy, profit hungry capitalist oil companies, the oil just beneath the Santa Barbra Canal is seeping to the surface on a continual basis.

The oil on the beaches of Oxnard, Ventura, and Santa Barbara is not because of Exxon. Some estimate that in the 40 years since the Union Oil spill of 1969 nearly two million barrels of oil has seeped into California's coastal waters. Extracting the oil in Santa Barbra's coastal region has the potential to protect the environment. The seepage is well documented. Newer underwater mapping technologies have brought increasing evidence of the sustained environmental hazard the untapped offshore oil presents. The tar on the beaches will not go away until the oil beneath the surface has been removed. Perhaps, Oh Environmentalist, the removal of oil is part of man's Divine purpose on earth!

Energy wealth is the outer wall of the human sanctuary that is the modern world. This is a perfect time for California to turn to Sarah Palin's energy model to balance her budget.

California must return to its roots to continue its liberal lifestyle. Historically, California's dreams were not built on gold, nor on platinum blondes, but on gushers of crude. Once a net exporter of oil, California now imports more than 40%. California's oil production decreased dramatically in the 1950's. It was during this period that, via the Submerged Lands Act, the federal government granted California increased jurisdiction over its coastal waters. The tendency to regulate oil production and refining out of existence accelerated after the Union Oil spill in 1969. In 1995 the California Coastal Sanctuary Act basically shut down new offshore oil drilling in California controlled waters. Despite great progress in safe drilling, under Governor Gray Davis historic leases were not renewed, reducing offshore production even more. As a result, estimates of untapped oil under the direct control of the State of California now run as high as a billion barrels. Even more conservative 1995 estimates put offshore California Oil reserves as high as 750 million barrels.

As long as California remains a net importer of crude oil, a severance tax on oil is only a VAT tax on every Californian. The California refineries will mark up their prices by a multiple of the oil price increase. The sate and federal governments will then get more cents per gallon from every Californian. The goods transported by truck will increase by yet another multiple. The same forces that want oil out of California are in favor of a severance tax on oil. The severance tax will not bridge California's budget deficits; it will deepen California's insolvency.

However, should Governor Schwarzenegger allow the severance tax of 9.9 % on newly leased oil production, the equations change. The increase in oil supply will reduce the price refineries pay despite the increase in taxes. The increased production will allow oil companies to increase net profits despite their per unit declines in profit. If the Democrats will allow the Governor's proposed offshore drilling at Tranquillon Ridge, the Republicans and the Governor should allow the severance tax on new production.

Even without repealing the California Coastal Sanctuary Act, much of the 750 million to a billion barrels of oil sitting off the coast may become accessible. If Lt. Gov. John Garamendi is correct, "new leases off the Mendocino Coast, the Orange County coast, as well as the Santa Barbara coast" could result from the precedent set at Tranquillon Ridge.

The impact on California's fiscal issues would be immediate. The leases at Tranquillon are 1.4 billion over fourteen years. The additional restoration work, land grants, and funds for Santa Barbara County promised by PXP bring the total revenues for the state to over two billion dollars. (For those who accuse Californians of being too soft on "Big Oil", compare this leasing price with the federal government's Alaskan lease to Shell). This is what PXP is willing to pay for the rights to extract about 105 million barrels of oil. If the 1 billion in new oil is extracted at these rates, it would mean twenty billion dollars in leases alone. If one considers the 10% tax on a $70 price per barrel, the new drilling is worth another 7 billion. Depending on the jurisdictional battles over state and federal waters, there may be as much as another 10 billion barrels of oil for Californians off the coast. That's potentially another 70 billion in tax revenues and another two hundred billion in leasing revenue. None of these figures include the immense supplies of natural gas that will be leased, taxed, and used in California even as oil resources are discovered and drilled.

There seems to be some buzz in Sacramento about adding a severance tax on new oil production to balance the budget. That is of course, a measure meant to encourage Democratic environmentalists to allow new production. A horse trade is what is needed. The coffers of California need new oil lease dollars yesterday. There may be more production on tap than Tranquillon. (See: California’s Untapped Oil Beckons Occidental’s Irani), but the new leases money needs to be spelled out along with the issuing of the severance tax.

If Republicans need to trade the 9.9% tax on all production, it is still worth doing to get Tranquillon done. Why? Because California is $ 24 billion in debt (and climbing). But if much of the historic production comes from privately owned land, the 9.9% tax could reduce production in the short term. Privately owned oil rights are part of the property’s value. Hence, production on privately held lands may be subjected to a double taxation, a property tax and a production tax. Since the land rights don’t sunset, the motivation to produce less to avoid higher taxes may be significant. A Democrat-Republican compromise on taxes and drilling should include specific exclusions

No comments: