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Biden challenges California's offshore drilling ban; reversal could affect Santa Barbara Channel

Offshore oil rig off the coast of California.
Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE)
Offshore oil rig off the coast of California.

The Biden Administration this month filed to overturn a lower court decision that halts offshore fracking in California federal waters, including the Santa Barbara Channel.

The court decision came after several environmental organizations filed a series of lawsuits, which ruled that the federal government’s allowance of offshore drilling violated several environmental regulations, including the Endangered Species Act and Coastal Zone Management Act.

Last year, the Biden administration announced its goals to reduce 50 percent of US greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

Attorney Kristen Monssell for the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the organizations involved in the lawsuits, said Biden’s recent efforts to challenge this offshore drilling ban are a major reversal of the administration’s climate plans.

“It’s incredibly disappointing to see the Biden Administration doing the oil industry’s bidding by defending fracking off the California coast,” said Monsell.

A 2021 analysis by research organization Oceana found that a permanent offshore drilling ban for federal waters could prevent over 19 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions, nearly three times the total annual emissions in the US.

During his 2020 campaign, President Biden vowed that “there will (would) be no offshore drilling” under his presidency.

Aerial view of Santa Rosa Island, one of eight islands in the Channel Islands archipelago located in the Santa Barbara Channel.
The Jon B. Lovelace Collection of California Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith's America Project, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
Aerial view of Santa Rosa Island, one of eight islands in the Channel Islands archipelago located in the Santa Barbara Channel.

However, President Biden’s recent push for offshore drilling in California contradicts his promises to ban offshore drilling altogether. Meanwhile, many Republican lawmakers defend oil and gas fracking for the energy, tax revenue, jobs, and other economic benefits it can provide.

Though President Biden has not banned offshore drilling, a 2022 Wall Street Journal analysis found that the Biden administration has leased fewer acres of federal land for oil and gas drilling than any other administration in its early stages, dating back to the end of World War Two.

Despite its record-low oil and gas leasing numbers, the administration continues to push for offshore drilling in California’s oceans, some of the most biologically productive waters on Earth.

“We’re confident that this effort to overturn it will be rejected,” said Monsell, “Offshore fracking shouldn’t be allowed at all, let alone without the careful comprehensive analysis of its numerous environmental effects.”

This comes as California aims to transition away from fossil fuels and reach carbon neutrality by 2045.

KCBX Reporter Amanda Wernik graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo with a BS in Journalism. During her time at Cal Poly, she worked as a news anchor for KCPR Radio and as an intern for the CJ Silas Show on ESPN Radio. Amanda is currently a fellow with the USC Center for Health Journalism, completing a data fellowship that will result in a news feature series to air on KCBX in the winter of 2024.
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