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California oil spill renews pressure to ban offshore drilling

The Golden State had been a leader in blocking offshore oil expansions since the infamous 1969 spill of Santa Barbara. The latest spill in Huntington Beach, however, has renewed pressure to ban all existing projects.

As you’ve most likely seen by now, yet another major oil spill is currently spewing into our oceans, this time courtesy of an offshore drill site in Huntington Beach.

On Monday, it was revealed that a ship anchor five miles off the coast had most likely snagged on an oil pipe and dragged it some 100 feet away from its fixed position. Despite passing all prior integrity checks, the pipe ruptured under tension causing a 13 inch split.

The impact so far

Local response teams claim the volume of waste pales in comparison to previous US blunders, such as the 1989 Exxon Valdes and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spills, but still equates to around 3,000 barrels (126,000 gallons) worth of crude oil blanketing 13 square miles.

The extent of damage sustained to the region’s rich biodiversity isn’t yet known and reportedly won’t be for weeks, but ‘optimistic’ researchers have claimed that animal populations in the affected area were ‘lower than initially feared.’

Nevertheless, there’s been instances of dead fish and birds washing up on shore and sections of the coastline have been temporarily closed.

Putting aside immediate concerns for the prosperity of surrounding wetlands, beaches, and wildlife (10% of which is considered endangered), the event is also particularly disappointing given California’s burgeoning reputation as an eco-conscious state.

With bold ambitions to reach net-zero emissions by 2045, five years before federal targets, the state has long contradicted itself with a static approach to scaling back fossil fuel production.

Increased pressure to end offshore drilling

California has been commended over the last five decades for blocking new leases to drill for offshore oil, yet in reality, it still remains the seventh-largest oil producing US state employing 150,000 people.

While congressional reform looks to enforce a ban on all associated future projects, it continues to largely ignore the 23 active drilling platforms and 1,200 oil wells scattered across the coast.

Many such platforms and wells have been in use since the late 60s long exceeding their expected lifespans, yet the state has aside $300 million of an estimated $800,000 needed to decommission them.

‘It boils down to finances and priorities,’ Democratic state Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell said. ‘I would hope that as we move forward we look at those wells ceasing to operate as soon as possible.’

In lieu of this aim, the faintest of silver linings from the latest spill is that people are once again shining a light on the issue. Those with the power to actually affect change at government level are also calling for closures to ‘existing platforms.’

‘We have to come up with a plan to not only stop new drilling but to figure out how do we stop all drilling that’s going on in California,’ says Orange County Democrat Alan Lowenthal.

Hopefully, we’ll have some positive news to report on that front sooner rather than later. As recent history shows, when it comes to sustainable rhetoric, actions speak louder than words.


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