Oil spill: California has been flirting with this kind of large-scale disaster for decades
I’m not sure what happened first when I heard about this weekend’s devastating oil spill off the coast of Orange County, California: anger, disgust, or sadness.
But I can’t say I was surprised.
California has been flirting with this kind of large-scale disaster for decades. We have long known that pipelines are dangerous and fail regularly. The result, this time, was 144,000 gallons of crude that spilled into the Pacific Ocean, covering our beaches and leaving wildlife to navigate a deadly mess – again.
The specific cause of this spill appears to be the rupture of one of the many aging pipelines that meander along the California coast. Oil rigs were built around 40 years ago – so they’re old, corroded, and should have been decommissioned a long time ago. The pipelines that serve them are not much better.
But there is also a bigger culprit here. Year after year, state and federal governments have ignored the well-documented dangers of offshore drilling, relying on a few solutions and crossing their fingers so that disaster does not strike.
Time and time again, this denial has become deadly: the Refugio oil spill off Santa Barbara in 2015. BP’s oil spill in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico, which killed 1 million birds. Exxon Valdez in 1989. The massive Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969. Between each of these horrific man-made disasters, there have been thousands of other oil spills, broken pipes, accidents and accidents. injuries that did not make the national news.
Now we’re adding the spill off Huntington Beach, Calif. To that infamous list, and the consequences are becoming clearer every day. Dead fish and birds have already washed up on the shore, and dolphins have been reported swimming through the oil slick.
Crude oil has now saturated the Talbert Marsh Ecological Reserve, which is home to dozens of bird species. Among them is the endangered Western Snow Plover, a sparrow-sized shorebird that is often seen scurrying onto the beach. In fact, before the oil spill, plovers had just started nesting and raising their young in Huntington Beach for the first time in over 50 years.
It can take months or even years for all of the damage from the current spill to be understood, especially since it is oozing causing the rupture. This part of the coastline is a rich ecosystem that is home to sea otters, dolphins, migrating whales and countless other species. For people, its beaches are some of the most popular in California.
Yet, day in and day out, the oil companies insist on putting it all at risk – and federal and state officials let them. The reality is that offshore drilling cannot be done safely – and spills like these are common, no exceptions. It is high time for this drilling to end.
Unfortunately, I saw how things go after an oil spill. We see outrage, headlines, investigations, reports and a lot of talk about reforms that will make the industry more accountable and reduce the risk of spills. The answer nibbles at the edges (at best) but never addresses the root causes why it keeps happening.
It should be different this time. President BidenJoe Biden Biden Announces Arts and Humanities Endowment Appointments Biden and Xi Agree to Honor Taiwan On The Money Agreement – Presented by NRHC – Democrats Break Rubicon Debt Ceiling PLUS should keep its promise to end all federal oil and gas leases and phase out existing drilling. Governor of California Gavin NewsomGavin NewsomNewsom signs laws banning “chemicals forever” in children’s products, food packaging Jason Aldean says Californians “should be outraged” by mandate for school vaccines California State Park’s native name has been restored MORE (D) should stop giving licenses to oil companies and get the decommissioning of offshore platforms in state waters. And Newsom must end neighborhood drilling, to protect the more than 2 million Californians who live within half a mile of an oil or gas well.
The result would not only be an end to toxic spills that kill wildlife and ruin our beaches. An end to offshore and onshore drilling is also necessary to address the climate crisis, as 85% of US greenhouse gas emissions come from oil, gas and coal. The same oil that taints Southern California’s famed coastline is also fueling the deadly wildfires, droughts and super storms that intensify each year.
Our leaders must embrace truly clean and fair energy solutions and leave fossil fuels in the ground. As we bear witness to the tragedy unfolding off the coast of Huntington Beach, we must demand from the President and other leaders that this oil disaster be the last.
Miyoko Sakashita is Director of the Oceans Program at the Center for Biological Diversity.