The Refugio oil spill coated Santa Barbara beaches and wildlife with thick black crude on May 19, 2015. (Credit: U.S. Coast Guard)

Californians Must Oppose Offshore Drilling — Here and Everywhere

Climate change expands the threat beyond just oil spills on our beaches

Most Californians oppose offshore oil drilling. Two years ago today, they got a vivid reminder why when a coastal pipeline leak blackened Santa Barbara area beaches with tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil, killing hundreds of seabirds and marine mammals.

The Refugio oil spill echoed the far larger 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill that caused California to stop oil and gas leasing in state waters. The last lease in federal waters off California was in 1984, but the Trump administration now wants to revive oil drilling off California’s coast and elsewhere.

Californians won’t let that happen here. We love our beautiful beaches and understand how oil drilling and spilling threaten marine life and coastal communities dependent on tourism, fishing and recreation. Offshore drilling has united Californians in opposition for decades, with politicians of both major parties helping to protect our coastline from new drilling projects.

But frankly, it’s not enough for Californians to defend our backyard. We also need to oppose Trump’s efforts to open the Arctic and Atlantic oceans and the eastern Gulf of Mexico — which is still recovering from the Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010 — to dangerous new offshore oil and gas leasing.

Brown pelican covered in oil from the Refugio spill. (Credit: LordMariser/Creative Commons)

Images of oil-soaked pelicans and closed beaches drive our visceral concerns about offshore drilling, for good reason. Offshore drilling is dirty business that inevitably causes oil spills, which occur regularly in the Gulf. Ecosystems can be damaged for decades, killing wildlife even years after a spill, as we’ve seen with bottlenose dolphins in the Gulf. Even finding offshore oil reserves involves deafening seismic blasts that harm marine mammals.

But the realities of global climate change greatly expand the threats posed by new offshore oil and gas drilling. Back in the early ’80s, when public opinion in California first turned decisively against offshore drilling, climate change wasn’t the imminent existential threat that it is today.

Now California is extremely vulnerable to sea-level rise and the ocean warming and acidification caused by the excessive burning of fossil fuels. Worst-case scenarios have 42,000 California homes and San Francisco’s airport and Embarcadero underwater by the end of the century.

Despite a global scientific and political consensus around the need to drastically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, Trump and his cronies are proposing to drastically expand offshore drilling, potentially unleashing 61.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide — the carbon pollution equivalent of running 17,901 coal-fired power plants for a year — now safely contained under federal waters.

Platform Holly will be decommissioned, Venoco announced just before Earth Day this year. (Credit: WikiMedia)

The recent announcement that Platform Holly near Santa Barbara is being decommissioned was good news — and, I hope, the beginning of the end of California’s entire aging, spill-prone offshore oil infrastructure. That system still includes more than 30 offshore platforms and artificial drilling islands, as well as hundreds of miles of pipelines in state and federal waters. Californians should vigorously oppose any attempt to expand offshore drilling along our coast.

But if we really want to protect our coastline and those in vulnerable areas around the world, we must also do all we can to thwart Trump’s effort to drill in the Arctic, Atlantic and eastern Gulf.

Together we have political power, so let’s use it. A large coalition of environmental and community groups is now launching a campaign to protect our oceans from Trump and the oil industry. Call your senator, write a letter to your representative, attend upcoming public hearings and support candidates who understand climate science and conservation.

Californians have always been trendsetters. Let’s lead the way in protecting our oceans from oil spills and climate change.