Iconic California county backs offshore drilling

LOS ANGELES Tue Aug 26, 2008 9:46pm EDT

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - California's Santa Barbara County, site of a major oil spill that rallied opposition to offshore oil production 40 years ago, voted on Tuesday to support new coastal oil exploration and extraction.

The county Board of Supervisors' 3-2 vote is largely symbolic, but comes amid a heated debate on lifting a long-time U.S. moratorium on offshore drilling to address a spike in oil prices that pushed gasoline above $4 per gallon this summer.

U.S. President George W. Bush lifted a White House ban on offshore drilling last month and pushed Congress to lift its ban. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger opposes a return to offshore drilling and advocates investment in alternative fuels.

The vote allows the county to send a letter to Schwarzenegger asking "that the State consider a change in policy that would allow expanded oil exploration and extraction in our county."

Santa Barbara County is known for the beauty of its coastline and upscale communities like Montecito and the city of Santa Barbara, 90 miles northwest of Los Angeles. But it faces budgetary shortfalls and rising unemployment that could be alleviated with new oil exploration, proponents say.

In 1969, 3 million gallons of crude oil leaked from an offshore drilling site, polluting beaches and killing birds, seals and dolphins.

"Since the traumatic oil spill in 1969, significant technological improvements on methods of extraction have been made which should appreciably mitigate such spills from happening in the future," the letter said.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman and Mary Milliken; Editing by Braden Reddall)

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