Fossil fuel companies continue to benefit from pumping oil while polluting our water and air. Our coasts are badly hit when oil spills like the one we’re seeing in Southern California. Despite the long history of oil spills, including the recent oil spills in Santa Barbara, San Francisco Bay, and now Huntington Beach, there is still no federal or state plan for a just transition away from a fossil fuel economy.
We need federal measures to stop offshore oil drilling and stop production altogether.
When the Trump administration threatened to open federal waters off the U.S. coast to new oil leases, People protested in droves. We knew then and now we know: If we drill, we spill. No so-called safety precautions from oil companies and regulators can fix this dirty and dysfunctional industry.
We successfully staved off Trump’s new offshore well leases, but our government continues to allow new ocean wells through existing leases. Amplify energy – Owner of the offshore oil pipeline that has just spilled more than 140,000 gallons of crude oil in the coastal waters of Southern California – plans to begin “new wells” in the same general areas within the next three months.
Oil companies get permits to drill and move oil while promising to work safely and then inevitably fail. There is no way to eliminate the risk of catastrophic spills. Valves become leaky, pipelines become corrode or be severed, good housing will explode – the list goes on. The only way to prevent oil spills is to stop drilling.
The public has no way of challenging oil companies with a history of safety and environmental violations that directly threaten our livelihoods and quality of life. Most California offshore drilling infrastructures are at least four decades old, and there is no transparency about how the industry plans to fix their outdated pipelines. We can only sit back and wait for disaster to strike. Then we watch in fear as our fisheries and ecosystems, as well as our own health and economies, pay the price.
This recent oil spill is just the most visible environmental impact of the oil drilling. It’s heartbreaking to see dolphins swim through black goop, oiled birds collapse on the coast, dead fish wash up, and beaches empty of surfers, swimmers and children building sandcastles. And we can’t even see the effects on plankton, the tiny plants and animals that swim in the ocean and form the basis of marine food webs that feed fish, mammals, birds and, of course, humans.
The agencies will try to calculate the cost of the damage, but they won’t be able to explain everything, including how long the devastation will last. Amplify’s spill has already traveled about 50 miles, all the way south to Oceanside in San Diego County. Impact of the Worst Oil Spill in American History, 2010 Deep water horizon leaked in the Gulf of Mexico were still discovered 10 years after the leak. The oil continued to spread, sink deeper, and was deadly to more habitats than expected – the same thing happens with this leak.
Why do we prioritize the profits of one industry over the health and safety of all? Oil from California’s offshore waters makes up only a tenth of 1 percent of the oil produced in the US every day. Is it really worth the damage we have to suffer?
The problem is not just on the coast. Everywhere we look we see government inaction allowing dangerous fossil fuel operations that harm Californians. The state was incredibly slow to respond to activists calling for the drilling to be regulated in our neighborhoods, despite the extremes harmful and well-documented effects air pollution on the people who live nearby. In April, the California government Gavin NewsomGavin Newsom California first state to ban “stealthing” Overnight Energy & Environment: White House restores parts of the environmental protection law repealed by Trump (D) requested new safeguards, but the relevant government agency missed each deadline and no new safeguards were issued. Los Angeles County has finally taken a more concrete step adopt a plan this year to revoke active drilling licenses as soon as this is legally permissible under the existing state laws. But it could be years before we see real change.
Inaction is a great loss for the United States; it takes our investment of well-paying jobs in clean energy and technical innovation and ultimately makes people more vulnerable to the increasingly severe effects of climate change.
Federal action is needed to stop offshore drilling immediately and prevent the next tragedy in our coastal waters. What our government decides now will affect future generations, and history will not be kind to politicians who side with a dirty and dying industry.
Shelley Luce is the CEO of Heal the Bay, a nonprofit environmental organization committed to maintaining clean and healthy coastal waters.