Memorial Day typically marks the start of summer for many tourism towns, but much of the coastal business in Santa Barbara came to a halt last week as approximately 105,000 gallons of crude oil spilled from a broken underground pipeline onshore — about 21,000 gallons making its way into the Pacific Ocean. While it is still unknown why the pipeline burst, the clean-up is expected to keep public beaches and commercial fisheries closed until at least June 4. The coastline, a popular destination due to its position near two state marine conservation areas, has seen buckets of collected oil on the beach rather than the usual influx of kayakers, paddleboarders and other beach-goers.
This is not the first time people in Santa Barbara have had to work to remove sticky, toxic oil from their beaches and the animals that live there. In 1969, Santa Barbara experienced one of the worst oil spills in U.S. history, when 3.3 million gallons of oil spilled from a well located offshore. Since then, larger oil spills, such as the Exxon Valdez in Alaska and theDeepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, have continued to show that offshore drilling is a dirty and dangerous practice. Even so, offshore drilling is still no safer than it was years ago. Despite repeated accidents, the industry seemingly pours its vast resources to exploring ever riskier ways to get at oil, instead of ensuring that their current methods are at a minimum safe. Rather than admonishing those responsible for these spills, the Obama Administration has thrown both science and caution to the wind, approving plans to expand drilling in the Arctic Ocean, and paved the way for offshore oil and gas development in the Atlantic.
Accidents can and will happen in all phases of production, from exploration to transportation. If oil drilling is allowed in the Atlantic Ocean, an ensuing spill could have detrimental effects on the heavily populated East Coast. A spill from an offshore rig or a vessel transporting oil to an industrialized port could kill countless fish and marine mammals, devastating coastal communities and economies for decades to come. Like Santa Barbara, many towns along the East coast depend on commercial fishing, tourism and recreation.
Oceana has been committed to preventing the expansion of offshore drilling. To date, Oceana has collected tens of thousands of signatures to protect the Atlantic and the Arctic from offshore drilling. On the East Coast, more than 500 national, state and local elected officials have taken a public stance against offshore oil exploration and/or development. More than 60 coastal towns, cities and counties, representing over one million citizens, have passed resolutions opposing seismic testing or offshore drilling.
The oil spill in Santa Barbara is yet another reminder that oil and water don’t mix. How many times will we be willing to repeat this cycle?