Last year, a severe budget crisis in the country’s most populous state made California the site of a lively – and unexpected — debate over reviving offshore drilling.

Now Governor Schwarzenegger has drafted a new budget, which does indeed include proposals to revive drilling in a large and controversial site, known as the Tranquillon Ridge, off the coast of Santa Barbara. It’s a site that by some estimates could generate $4 billion in revenue for the California. It seems a budget crisis is just what was needed to trigger serious policy discussions about offshore drilling as a source of new revenue.

Of course, as we’ve said again and again, we’re all for healthy debates that might lead to more coastal waters being opened to responsible exploration and production. Still, it is difficult to watch this particular debate unfold without being reminded of how far we still need to go, at least in some parts of the country.

Out west, the prospect of additional drilling is too often regarded as a move of last resort rather than a logical energy and economic policy. Schwarzenegger says that revenue from the Tranquillon site will go directly toward the state’s parks, sparing them additional cutbacks. In addition, it appears broad support for the project hinges on an agreement from the project’s developer to stop oil production there after 14 years.

If you think this all sounds a little funny — dangling the future of the state’s parks systems in order to win approval for the project, while exchanging oil now for no more oil in the future — you’re probably right. Some critics have equated the terms of this proposed project to blackmail.

This is not to say that a happy conclusion is out of the question. If it takes state budget crises to get states interested in their offshore resources, that’s a good thing. Even opponents of the project may come to support it once they see the economic upside.

But it shouldn’t have to be so complicated. Hopefully, when other offshore projects come up for review around the country, it won’t be.