After the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010, the Obama administration slapped a moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf and backed away from plans to expand drilling along the eastern United States.
Louisiana’s governor, Bobby Jindal, saw thousands of jobs at stake and demanded that the moratorium be lifted. But the governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, responded differently: he withdrew his support for Tranquillon Ridge, an offshore drilling project that would have delivered up to $100 million in yearly revenue to the financially struggling state government.
Schwarzenegger’s reaction was a prime example of California’s animus toward oil drilling. Tranquillon Ridge wouldn’t have required a new drilling platform; it would have used an existing one. That platform stands in a safe 242 feet of water—Deepwater Horizon was drilling in about 5,000 feet—and is far from any coastal towns. Environmental activists had even cut a deal with the driller to retire the platform after 14 years. It was a deal with low risks and no losers. But news coverage from the Gulf blinded Schwarzenegger. “I see on TV the birds drenched in oil, the fishermen out of work, the massive oil spill, and the oil slick destroying our precious ecosystem,” he declared at a May 2010 news conference. “That will not happen here in California.”
California pays a high price for its aversion to oil. By refusing to tap much of the oil wealth off its shoreline, the state is forgoing a resource that could go far to revive its economy and bring state and local governments back to fiscal health. On dry land, too, California is missing an opportunity: its vast onshore oil reserves are underused, thanks to a green-energy agenda that raises the cost of oil production and refining. Policymakers have to realize that their quixotic quest to outgrow fossil fuels isn’t helping the state. ... continues...