California oil spill sparks environmental protests

Tuesday’s oil spill off coast of Santa Barbara leads to protests, blog posts from environmentalists criticising ‘Big Oil’

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Jul 28, 2015

Tuesday’s oil spill in California, which resulted in gallons of crude oil being poured into the Pacific Ocean, sparked off a rallying call for environmental groups who criticised the oil industry and made demands, though not all directly related to the disaster at hand.

On Thursday, two days after a pipeline rupture created a crisis about 32 km west of Santa Barbara, several environmental groups held a rally in front of the town’s Courthouse to protest against fracking in California.

The rally, attended by about 150 citizens as well as the mayor, was jointly organised by Food & Water Watch, the Center for Biological Diversity and Californians Against Fracking, among others.

Fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing, extracts oil or gas by pumping water, sand and chemicals into a well. Opponents say the practice risks contaminating groundwater.

“We hope that Governor Brown sees this [spill] as another case in point for the need to end fracking,” said Sandra Lupien, a spokeswoman for Food & Water Watch, repeating the organisation’s request to ban advanced oil extraction techniques, including fracking.

Tupper Hall, a spokesman for the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), told Reuters that “There is absolutely no link between hydraulic fracturing and this week’s release of oil at Refugio Beach.”

Plains All American, the owner of the ruptured pipeline, is a member of the WSPA, a non-profit trade association.

Hull noted that the pipeline system receives crude oil from two offshore oil fields and that no fracking has taken offshore of Santa Barbara.

Environmental groups are using the opportunity to make their voices heard.

The Natural Resources Defense Council made an example of Santa Barbara in its blog posts, expressing its opposition to importing tar sands oil from Canada to California and to expanding Arctic drilling.

Greenpeace added a link to a form letter to President Obama requesting the revocation of Royal Dutch Shell Plc’s drilling lease in Arctic waters in a blog post about the Santa Barbara oil spill.

The post quoted Annie Leonard, Executive Director for Greenpeace, who said “Oil spills are never accidents. They are the direct result of substandard oversight of fossil fuel companies who put their profits above human and environmental impacts.”

The oil spill into the Pacific Ocean near Refugio State Beach caused California Governor Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown Jr. to issue an emergency proclamation for Santa Barbara County.

Two affected state beaches, Refugio and El Capitan, have been closed indefinitely, while federal and state cleanup efforts and investigations continue.

Up to 105,000 gallons (400,000 liters) of oil were released from the ruptured onshore pipeline, of which about 21,000 gallons (80,000 liters) may have reached the ocean.

If estimates are correct, this spill will be the worst in the area since 1969. In 1969, an offshore oil well blowout dumped an estimated 3 million gallons (11,356,235 liters) of crude oil into the waters off Santa Barbara.

The 1969 disaster, which far exceeds the impact of the recent spill, caused the death of thousands of seabirds and marine mammals and was a catalyst in the formation of the modern US environmental movement.

Michael Jasny of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group, told NBC News that even if the death toll is relatively low the impact to area marine mammals such as dolphins and sea otters, could take years before it is fully understood.

“The oceans are so opaque to us,” he said, “and the harms we inflict in it are often invisible.”

TRTWorld and agencies