By refusing to tap much of the oil wealth off its shoreline, California 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.
California’s attitude toward oil began to shift in January 1969, when a well six miles off the Santa Barbara coast blew out just after workers had finished drilling it. The spill was the largest in American waters at the time; it now ranks third behind the Deepwater Horizon and Exxon Valdez spills.
Its impact extended far beyond California; more than any other single event, it brought the various strands of environmentalism and conservation together into a national movement.
But the spill’s most immediate result was that California stopped leasing tidelands — the zone within three nautical miles of shore, whose resources the state owns — to oil companies. Not a single acre of this oil-rich seabed has been auctioned since, though drilling continues in areas leased before 1969.
Onshore, the situation is less dire: New wells are continually being drilled, mostly on private or federal land. But the state no longer goes out of its way to attract oil investment, and environmental and land-use laws give local opponents tools to stymie drilling plans.