Presidents’ Day may be one of the more dubious excuses to “celebrate” thus far concocted by the Hallmark card company, but the fact remains that it is right around the corner. Typically, I hate stories tied to anniversary news hooks, but this year I think we need to acknowledge another date — January 28. That happens to be the anniversary of Santa Barbara’s late, great oil spill of 1969. It is of legitimate interest now, largely because of who is in the White House and his Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, who happens to be a peripatetic, pseudo-resident of Santa Barbara.
On January 4 of this year, these two unveiled grand plans to achieve what they’ve dubbed global “energy dominance.” The center-piece of this scheme is to open up every square inch of offshore federal land — otherwise known as “the coast” — to new oil leasing. That includes the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Throw in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico, and you get the picture. And, of course, it includes the Santa Barbara Channel. For those just tuning in, the federal government puts together new leasing plans for offshore oil every five years. And every five years since 1984, Santa Barbara has been excluded. This has not been an oversight. Every single omission has been an act of political intention, a late payment on the oil spill.
As changes in policy go, it’s a very Big Deal.
Let’s go back to January 28, 1969, for a second. That’s when the waters off the Carpinteria coast exploded around Union Oil’s now notorious Platform A. Crude oil blasted forth at a rate of 1,000 gallons per hour for more than a month. A 35-mile stretch from Rincon to Goleta was covered in what the L.A. Times described as “a chocolate mousse mat a foot thick.” Today, a disaster of this magnitude might last a few rotations in the spin cycle that passes for news. Back then, it shocked the world.
In the context of Trump, Zinke, and their collective jihad against environmental regulation, it needs to be remembered that Santa Barbara’s oil spill was emphatically not a failure of old, outmoded technology. It was, instead, a premeditated failure to enforce regulations that were on the books at the time. To get to the oil, Union had to drill about a mile under the ocean’s surface. Federal rules required protective casings be installed into the boreholes they drilled. The surrounding shale soil was — and remains — notoriously soft and crumbly. For whatever reason, Union execs got a federal waiver from the existing rules, allowing them to install significantly weaker casing. Maybe someone had dreams of global energy dominance. Turns out there is good reason for those regulations.