The Jan. 28, 1969, explosion at a Union Oil drilling site off the coast of Santa Barbara changed the course of both state and federal environmental policies. To the deep frustration of many, it took authorities a month to stop what was then the worst oil spill in U.S. history. The sight of 3 million gallons of crude drenching and incapacitating seabirds and otters — and leading to dead dolphins and seals brought in by the tides to blackened beaches — led to state and federal moratoriums on new drilling off California. It spurred creation of both the U.S. and California Environmental Protection Agencies. It led to new state and federal laws strengthening the penalties facing private companies for environmental disasters and requiring them to foot the entire tab for cleanups.
Now California faces another oil spill crisis. A leak from a cracked Amplify Energy pipeline that may have been hooked by a ship’s anchor was confirmed on Oct. 2 off Huntington Beach. This released up to 131,000 gallons of crude, leading to fouled beaches across Orange County. Images of blackened beaches and marshlands, birds covered in oil and dead fish floating on oil sheens have been like a kick in the stomach in a state that loves its seaside.
Now it appears the spill has reached San Diego County. Tarballs have been found on beaches in Oceanside, Carlsbad, Encinitas and Del Mar.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-San Francisco, is hoping this oil spill gives new momentum to the measure she introduced in January that would permanently ban new oil and gas drilling in federal waters off the coast of California, Oregon and Washington. Feinstein has long argued that temporary federal moratoriums aren’t strong enough, a concern confirmed in 2018 when President Donald Trump launched a push for new oil drilling off the West Coast only to be tied up by court challenges. A companion measure to Feinstein’s West Coast Ocean Protection Act has been introduced in the House by Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael.
Given that the scale of the Orange County spill is much smaller than the 1969 Santa Barbara County disaster, that it was contained quickly and that energy exploration executives argue that offshore drilling is far safer than it used to be, there is no question that oil and gas companies with huge political clout will push back on Feinstein’s plan.
But even if the Orange County spill didn’t happen, her proposal has great inherent value. The climate emergency requires that the nation move away from fossil fuels on numerous fronts, not just a few. Local, state, federal and international commitments to long-term reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions — while very welcome — simply do not address the…
Read More: Oil spill one more reason to fear fossil fuels, seek changes