California dreamin’ of a world without oil spills
Why disasters like the recent Orange County pipeline accident are so unnecessary
I grew up in Los Angeles and in the summer before my junior year of high school, a good friend would pick me up a little before dusk nearly every day and we’d drive due west. We’d snake down the city’s famed Sunset Blvd. until we ended up at one of the world’s most majestic sites — the Pacific Ocean.
It was the perfect time of day to go to the beach. The heat’s sharp edge had softened and the crowds that flocked to this cathedral of nature had departed. Like with more traditional cathedrals, which are purposely grand in scale to temper the hubris that so many humans often embrace, being near the vast ocean was always a humbling experience for me. We would body surf for about an hour and then watch the sun set behind the seemingly endless sea.
Tragically, for far too long now, not everyone has embraced that type of respect for our oceans.
On occasion, I would drive north from my sacrosanct swimming spot and see oil platforms off the coast. Even back then, in the mid-1980s, we should have known better. Nearly two decades before, in 1969, Santa Barbara endured a 3-million-gallon oil spill that created a 35-mile-long oil slick across the Southern California coast. Thousands of birds, fish and sea mammals died from the disaster.
Over and over again since then, we’ve neglected the lesson that if we drill, it’s inevitable that we spill. Earlier this month, south of the place I used to swim, we were reminded yet again how heartbreaking it is to defile our oceans. A pipeline accident in Orange County’s Huntington Beach released approximately 25,000 gallons of oil into the Pacific.
The old saying goes that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” It’s a heavily used trope, but it applies here. However, what makes our continued excavation and transportation of offshore oil even crazier now is that, more than ever, we have an abundance of safer options at our disposal.
U.S. solar energy resources have the technical potential to meet America’s 2020 electricity needs more than 77 times over, according to an Environment America Research & Policy Center report. Beyond that, American onshore and offshore wind could cover the country’s power demands 11 times over.
California knows this better than most states. With enough offshore wind power to meet 157% of its 2019 electricity use, California can create power from the ocean in a cleaner way than oil drilling. Thankfully, in September, its legislature passed a landmark bill directing state regulators to set a target for offshore wind, which is another step toward meeting the state’s commitment to reach 100% clean energy by 2045.
On a national level, President Joe Biden entered office promising to stop oil and gas leasing in our oceans. He should keep that pledge because continuing these leases props up a dying industry at the heavy cost of damaging the biodiversity and health of our waters (not to mention the climate implications of burning even more fossil fuels).
I no longer live in Los Angeles, but nearly every time I visit, I take my family to the beach. It remains as awe-inspiring as it was in my adolescence. That said, I look forward to the day when I can go and not worry about tar balls and oil spills because we’ve learned from our past mistakes on offshore drilling and have changed our ways.