Santa Barbara oil spill closes the beaches

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Photo above: El Capitán State Beach before the oil spill. We can no longer call it “pristine.” (Wikipedia)

This is old news now, has been for at least two weeks. An oil pipeline owned by Texas-based Plains All American Pipeline ruptured May 19, spilling over 100,000 gallons of oil onto the beaches in Santa Barbara and then into the ocean.

Where the spill occurred at Refugio State Beach (Wikipedia)
Where the spill occurred at Refugio State Beach (Wikipedia)

This isn’t the first time Santa Barbara suffered an oil spill. In January 1969 an offshore oilrig owned by Union Oil had a blow out and spewed over 100,000 barrels of crude oil into the ocean. It nearly wiped out the marine life from Ventura to Goleta, a distance of about 12 miles. To this day oil still bubbles up from the ruptured ocean floor and covers the beach in black tar.

If you go to visit for some vacation time the visitor bureau suggests you wear plastic throw away footwear because the oil on the beach will ruin your shoes. That spill occurred 46 years ago and the area is still dealing with the problems. My friend Christina was Playboy’s Miss March 1978. Part of her pictorial was shot on those beaches. When I asked her about the black sand she said it was from the oil spill.

Now, 46 years later, Santa Barbara has another oil spill; this one from an onshore pipeline that spilled oil into a culvert that emptied into the Pacific Ocean.

Come back next month. We might be open. (Wikipedia)
Come back next month. We might be open.

The owners of the pipeline said they would do whatever it takes to clean up the mess, but they don’t know when the beaches affected by the spill will be open.

Obviously this will have a devastating effect on Santa Barbara’s tourist season. People come to this part of California for the beaches primarily and if they can’t even go on the sand, let alone into the water, people will be cancelling their plans. Actually, tourists have already cancelled vacation plans.

This latest spill isn’t nearly as bad the 2010 BP explosion and spill in the Gulf of Mexico. After that blowout over 200 million gallons of oil gushed into the water, fouling 16,000 miles of coastline. New exploration for oil fields was halted, but much to the shock of many, President Obama lifted the moratorium on exploration and development in 2011. The mess from the Deepwater Horizon disaster hadn’t been complete — oil still washes ashore in the Gulf — and the administration decided the oil companies could get back to the business of drilling for oil.

The oil industry trumps everything else in this country. Screw the environment. People gotta work and the oil companies need to make their billions. Never mind what it does to the environment. Our infrastructure is going to hell, we are the only industrialized nation without high-speed rail, and we have the worst mass transit systems in the world, with few municipal exceptions — because big oil owns our federal and state governments.

You want to put millions of people to work? Fix our infrastructure and start building and funding better mass transit in every metropolitan area with a population over 100,000. Start by giving people a reason to keep their cars at home when they go to work.

Volunteers cleaning up Refugio State Beach. (Michael Nelson/EPA)
Volunteers cleaning up Refugio State Beach.
(Michael Nelson/EPA)

But that’s not the issue, oil spills are the issue … but they are connected so very tightly. We use almost 19 billion barrels of oil per day, twice that of China, four times that of Japan, six times more than Russia, twice that of France, Italy, Spain, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom combined.

We consume so much oil the real power in America has us convinced we need to foul or land, air and water to keep up with our demand. So, when you travel up and down the coast in Southern California you will see oilrigs — on land and out in the ocean. The beaches of the Santa Barbara area are permanently altered due to these two oil spills it has suffered in the past 46 years.

People who are pro “drill baby drill” will say that oil seeps up from the floor of the ocean naturally, and it does. The Santa Barbara Channel is one of the richest oil fields in the world, but it is also one of the most active tectonic areas in the world. The cracks in the ocean floor allow oil and natural gas to seep up through the ground and into the water.

The oilrigs leak as well, but the natural oil and natural gas seepage is far greater than what is caused by the oilrigs. Unless of course an oilrig has a blowout, like what happened in 1969. Or a pipeline breaks and leaks oil into the ocean, which is what happened two weeks ago.

We can’t fix any of the cracks in the ocean floor that seep oil and natural gas, but we don’t need to make matters worse by creating more cracks in the ocean floor with new oilrigs.

Plus, we can put money into fixing the infrastructure, like the oil and gas pipelines, so they don’t spill millions of gallons of pollution onto the land and into our water. The oil and gas industry has been one of the most profitable industries in the world for decades now, so they don’t need more government subsidies.; right now the industry gets nearly $5 billion a year in subsidies and tax breaks. Force them to use our tax dollars to fix their infrastructure.

There have been 71 major pipeline spills in the U.S. since the beginning of 2013. As we found out with this latest spill, the pipelines are old and the “safeguards” are insufficient. Seventy-one spills in just 30 months.

The area spoiled by the oil spill is in red. (Wikipedia)
The area spoiled by the oil spill is in red.

And yet the governor of this great state and the legislature rescinded some of the environmental protections in the Coastal Act, making it more difficult for the Coastal Commission to monitor the cleanup. That’s good news for the company involved in the oil spill, Plains All American Pipeline. Might be bad news for the people of Santa Barbara.

Governor Brown declared a state of emergency for the area, which added more money and resources for the mess, but they need to force the private sector, in this case the extremely profitable oil industry, to update and upgrade their infrastructure. The pipeline that broke is over 20 years old. It’s not a classic car — replace it.

We get it. The oil and gas industry is here to stay, but the governments we elect to represent us need to make them pay to play. If they want to put oilrigs off the coast — or on land for that matter — and run pipelines up and down the state to and from the various refineries, fine. But hold them to strict standards, higher standards than the EPA and make them control their operations so we can avoid these environmental disasters.

It was just announced late Wednesday the pipeline that broke was so corroded that its shell was just a “fraction of an inch” thick where it ruptured. Had they kept their equipment up to date, Plains All american Pipeline could have prevented this from happening. So much for the oil and gas industry being over-regulated.

Ask the business owners around the Refugio and El Capitán State Beaches if they would like to see tighter regulations for oil and gas operations in California. What the hell, they have nothing else to do until the beaches are open, because they aren’t getting many tourists right about now.