CEQA Thresholds of Significance - Oil Spills
Project Status: Underway
skimming of an oil slick from the Point Pedernales oil spill in
1997 off Santa Barbara County
California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) &
Environmental Significance Thresholds
CEQA sets forth
a legal framework for identifying significant effects on the environment
caused by discretionary actions taken by state and local governments
that qualify as a "project." Among other criteria, a project
may have a significant effect on the environment if it has the potential
to degrade the quality of the environment or curtail the range of
the environment (Public Resources Code § 21083(a)). Significant
effects on the environment must be mitigated to the maximum extent
feasible. Decision-makers may approve proposed projects with one
or more significant unavoidable impacts only if they find the project's
benefits to outweigh these impacts.
CEQA reserves the role of determining significance for the lead
agency, pursuant to guiding limitations expressed by law. CEQA Guidelines
agencies to develop and publish thresholds that indicate what
point a given environmental effect should be considered significant.
The purpose of thresholds is to promote consistency, efficiency,
and predictability in gauging the significance of environmental
impacts. Such thresholds may be either qualitative or quantitative.
The Governor's Office of Planning and Research recommends that
lead agencies review thresholds periodically to ensure continued
relevance and accuracy, and to revise them as needed. The County's
CEQA Guidelines specify a process for review and revision of thresholds
that requires consideration by the Planning Commission and approval
by the Board of Supervisors.
Oil Spill Thresholds
Santa Barbara County received funding from the California Coastal
Resource Grant Program and the Federal
Coastal Impact Assistance Program to
prepare CEQA thresholds of significance
for oil spills, both onshore and offshore.
These thresholds are intended to help
guide environmental review of oil and
gas projects proposed in the future.
Previous environmental reviews based
the significance of impacts on estimated
frequencies and volumes of oil spills for determining
significance, but were in some cases indifferent
to the spatial setting of potential spills, such
as proximity to environmentally sensitive habitats
or popular recreational sites. Even relatively small
spills can have significant adverse effects, depending
Please contact Dr.
John Day for more information.