The recent rupture of Plains All American’s oil pipeline in Santa Barbara County is a reminder to all of us that offshore drilling can ruin more than just our vacation. This crude spill turned the palm-tree lined paradise of Refugio Beach into a sludge-filled horror. Although we’ve been told that these things “just happen,” in actuality, a study by InsideClimateNews found that 19 out of 20 spills go unnoticed and unreported due to weakly regulated leakage detection systems. Even more alarming, these systems do not detect four out of five oil spills larger than 40,000 gallons. According to the California Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, Santa Barbara County had been stained 158 times by unstable pipelines as of June 2014, a frustrating data point that explains why every time I run on the beach, I need to spend 20 minutes scraping off the oil from my feet.
As a resident of Santa Barbara and a UCSB student, I can only hope that this latest pipeline leak sparks a similar public response as did the 1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill. Despite the devastating effects that spill had on marine life and the coastal economy, it spurred the beginning of the environmental movement, prompted the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and halted new leases for oil wells in state waters. However, pre-ban offshore wells have continued to pump out crude a few miles off our coast, carrying catastrophic spill risks into the indefinite future, all while oil development inland grows at an accelerated and aggressive pace.
As the numbers show, little progress has been made in terms of spill prevention, and the most recent technology, although readily available, is still not being used. So I feel outraged that irresponsible and irreversible damage continues to be inflicted by the oil industry’s furious drive to get every drop, while relying on unsafe leak-detection technology. The stability of our climate, health, precious potable groundwater, marine life, seafood, and fertile soils cannot continue to depend on the motives of selfish tycoons.
Many of us as Californians hold our heads high believing we are the greenest example in the nation, an attitude I see in my peers at UCSB, which was recently named the greenest public university in the United States. However, we can absolutely do more. I was disappointed by the failure of Measure P in the most recent county elections, as we have let funding from oil companies continue to guide our future. Measure P could have ensured the end of the county’s oil industry by banning all future oil exploration. Ultimately, this could have prevented hazardous chemicals and acids from contaminating our local food and water. This is a strong reminder to all of us as citizens that we must act for the protection of our planet, conservation of our resources, and investment in cleaner, safer energy sources. We cannot fail our planet or our future generations, and we cannot give up.
Friends, I think the warning signs are clear. Our addiction to dirty energy sources like petroleum and carbon is ruining the climate, oceans, air, water, soils, and wildlife we depend on for our own survival. It’s time to vote appropriately, spread the word, mobilize, and act. Talk among peers, reach out to your elected leaders (it’s as easy as sending a Tweet or posting on Instagram), get engaged with nonprofits, and take action in your community. Simply put, be conscious and verbal. It’s time to enact carbon standards and lay off oil, not only for the health and prosperity of future human generations, but also for those species that can’t speak up. It’s our duty. By pressuring our decision makers to enact stronger safeguards on the oil industry for the safety of our food, families, and recreational opportunities, we are ultimately steering away from America’s dependence on fossil fuels and into the clean energy economy of the 21st century.
Juan Afanador is a student at University of California, Santa Barbara and a Latino outreach fellow at Voces Verdes.