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Air Force mulls offshore oil drilling at Vandenberg 

A company that wants to pull oil from the ground below Vandenberg Air Force Base or from deposits offshore needs to choose its location carefully. The last request to drill was proposed between two major launch sites on the base.

That was a definite no go; putting a drill pad there would have prevented access to a major launch site either during construction of the pad or if an accident occurred at the well, said Master Sgt. Kevin Williams, a spokesperson for the U.S. Air Force, in an e-mail to New Times. He added that the Air Force also assessed the base for other potential drilling locations.

“Due to technological advances in slant drilling, there may be sites for drilling available on Vandenberg Air Force Base that would have minimal impact to its mission,” Williams wrote.

The Air Force Space Command is working with the Air Force Civil Engineer Center to perform an assessment on whether slant drilling technology could be used to access offshore oil deposits from Vandenberg, according to a recent press release. The study is expected to take two or three months to complete. If it’s considered a feasible move, the Air Force could pursue an Enhanced Use Lease with a company interested in drilling.

Williams said the lease would be with a private entity for non-excess land, which is land the public can’t access. In exchange, the Air Force would receive either cash or in-kind compensation. Office space, warehouses, industrial facilities, solar plants, infrastructure repair, and new facilities are some of the in-kind payments the Air Force has received.

There are currently six wells on the base, five of which are actively producing oil. Plains Exploration & Production Company, which has a permit to have 10 wells at Vandenberg, operates four active wells and one idle well. Conway Energy operates one well.

Any company that jumps on the Vandenberg oil train—if a lease is pursued—will be responsible for complying with environmental regulations, and its operations will be regulated by state and local agencies, Williams said.

A lease would only be considered if drilling doesn’t impact the base’s mission, which includes launching test missiles and orbiting satellites. Williams said the Air Force would look for drilling locations outside of the flight area or danger zone of launches. The base already works with offshore oil platform operators to make sure platform workers are protected during launches.

“The Air Force will protect its mission with a series of stipulations in the lease that will ensure the mission has priority over their oil extraction and drilling activities,” Williams wrote.


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