The Inertia Editorial Intern

A Santa Barbara surfer covered in oil following the 1969 spill. Photo: Courtesy of Bud Bottoms

The Inertia

In 1969, Californians learned firsthand why offshore drilling is a bad idea. Three million gallons of oil spewed into the ocean in Santa Barbara, tarnishing 35 miles of coastline and devastating wildlife. Despite public outcry, not much has changed. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, 1.3 million gallons of petroleum spill into U.S. waters annually. It gets worse. Let’s not forget the explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in 2010, which took eleven lives and gushed out 210 million gallons of gas, causing unfathomable destruction in the Gulf Coast. The incident shook the entire world, and policies were implemented to improve safety and protect certain areas from drilling. Recently, Donald Trump announced plans to dismantle these protections.

On April 28th, Trump issued an executive order for an “America-First Offshore Energy Strategy,” which calls for exploration of new frontiers for leasing to oil companies, slashes important bills designed to make equipment safer, and prohibits the designation of new marine sanctuaries as well as the expansion of existing ones. The aim is to remove those pesky obstacles that were put in place to protect us from drowning in toxic slicks, and to open up huge swathes of the Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf of Mexico, and Arctic Ocean for dangerous drilling. (Cue Sarah Palin shrieking the familiar slogan: “Drill, baby, drill!”)

The state of California has resolved to protect the West Coast. In a joint statement with the governors of Oregon and Washington, California Governor Jerry Brown denounced the executive order. “Today’s unilateral action is short-sighted,” he said. “For good reason, there has been no federal expansion of oil and gas drilling along our shared coastline for more than 30 years. We remember the oil-soaked beaches and wildlife and the devastating economic impacts to local communities and the fishing industry…We cannot return to the days where the federal government put the interests of big oil above our communities and treasured coastline.”

Victims of the Santa Barbara oil spill. Courtesy of Bud Bottoms.

The fact is, if we continue extracting oil from the bottom of the ocean, spills are inevitable. It’s been made abundantly clear by the history of offshore drilling that it’s impossible to do it safely (especially if the Trump administration succeeds in cutting regulations). So take another look at that surfer covered in toxic oil, and decide if you want that to be you. Ask yourself if you want to see dead baby dolphins washed up on your beach (hundreds died following the BP spill, along with countless other marine animals). This isn’t an apocalyptic horror story; it’s something that has happened before and will happen again if risky offshore drilling continues.


The Department of the Interior is currently requesting public comment on this issue as they develop their five-year Offshore Drilling program. Letting them know what you think is easy, and instructions can be found on Surfrider’s website. It’s our responsibility as ocean lovers to oppose offshore drilling vehemently, before it’s too late.


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