When I was a kid growing up in Southern California, we used to take regular camping trips to nearby state parks. Usually it was to a state beach. As we lived in Orange County, we often visited San Onofre, or San Clemente, sometimes Doheny.
One of my favorite trips, however, was up the coast to Refugio State Beach, on the pristine Gaviota Coast beyond Santa Barbara.
With no development out there on that part of the coast, it’s a perfect place to spend a week camped out by the waves, in the warm California sun.
Or, it was a perfect place. Unfortunately, there is actually some development on the coast: oil. There’s not only offshore drilling, there is onshore drilling. And the oil drilled offshore is pumped onshore through a series of pipes.
In 1969 one of these pipes ruptured underwater, causing a massive spill that ranks only behind the Deepwater Horizon spill and the Exxon Valdez spill in size. As a result, no new offshore oil drilling has since been allowed in California.
But the existing operations continue. Some oil is actually drilled onshore. Most oil is drilled offshore and piped onshore to a processing facility, like ExxonMobil’s Las Flores Canyon site. Pipes along the coast carry the crude to refineries. And it’s one of these pipes that ruptured on Tuesday.
— Iration (@Iration) May 20, 2015
While the spill is not yet as large as the 1969 spill, the effect has been devastating:
By land and by sea, cleanup crews descended Wednesday morning on the Gaviota Coast as the major oil spill from the day before grew to cover nine miles of ocean along the shoreline. Initial estimates put the spill at approximately 21,000 gallons, but officials now fear as many as 105,000 gallons of crude oil may have leaked from the broken underground pipe operated by Plains All American Pipeline. Responders are still working to pin down the exact figure and to determine how much oil seeped into the ocean.
The oil sheen has quickly spread down the coast from the spill site just west of Refugio State Beach; yesterday’s estimate put the oil slick, which has now split into two separate slicks, at four miles long with expectations it would only spread another two to four miles.
Just as the 1969 oil spill led to a ban on new offshore drilling, the 2015 spill should lead to the end of oil drilling in California. Completely.
That should begin with coastal drilling operations, which ought to end immediately. 40,000 barrels of oil are drilled each day off California’s coast, compared to 524,000 barrels drilled onshore. While there would be an economic impact of shutting down the coastal drilling, the impact of oil spills, as well as a warming climate (such as the worst drought in decades) has an even bigger economic impact.
Over the next few years California should then wind down production of the onshore fields, most of which are in Monterey and Kern counties. Of course, fracking should at long last be immediately banned as well. It is essential for California’s natural environment, as well as its future climate, that the remaining oil stay in the ground.
That’s the supply side. California also needs to reduce the demand for oil. The California high speed rail project would save between 2 million and 3 million barrels of oil in California each year starting in 2030. Adding in new connecting transit in the state’s cities would help save even more oil.
California needed to move beyond oil even before Tuesday’s spill. But the oil spill is an urgent call for the state to act now. It’s not enough to ban new drilling. The state must do everything in its power to shut down current drilling.