Some of my life’s best moments have been in Santa Barbara Channel waters, riding waves or scuba diving beneath them, sharing this magnificent coastline with a rich variety of marine wildlife. I’ve sailed alongside massive blue whales and super-pods of common dolphins, surfed with sea otters and pelicans, swum with horn sharks and bat rays. So Santa Barbara feels like the perfect place to launch a statewide movement against dangerous new offshore oil drilling and fracking proposals for federal waters off California.
The Santa Barbara City Council just passed a resolution opposing the Trump administration’s efforts to expand offshore oil leasing off the California coastline, and the drilling, fracking, and spilling that comes with it. That vote launched our coalition’s campaign to unite California’s coastal communities around protection of our waters, beaches, and communities. Similar resolutions have already been introduced in Goleta and Carpinteria, and we expect dozens more cities to soon join in.
California’s coast has been protected against new offshore leasing for decades, but President Trump fatally undermined that protection with his April 28 executive order to expand offshore drilling, threatening every U.S. ocean, including the Pacific. For the first time since 1984, the federal government could sell off our ocean to oil companies. That would be a disaster for the state and its coast-dependent economy — one we just can’t allow.
Last year, when the East Coast faced a similar threat, its cities and townships successfully demonstrated the power of organizing communities against offshore drilling. When the Obama administration included an offshore lease in the Atlantic in its draft of a five-year offshore leasing plan, East Coast communities rose up in resistance, with 123 of them passing resolutions opposing new offshore drilling and/or seismic blasting to search for oil. Federal officials responded by removing the Atlantic from the final plan. It was people power in action, until Trump blew it all up.
Facing a powerful industry supported by a political regime that’s hostile to even the most reasonable environmental regulations, an organized resistance may be the most effective weapon we have. California has political and economic power that can’t be ignored. Californians united against offshore drilling and fracking will be a formidable force that can protect our cherished coastline.
Major oil spills inevitably follow coastal drilling and pipeline construction, as Santa Barbara residents were reminded in 2015 when the Refugio oil spill blackened beaches and killed hundreds of marine mammals and birds. Such “accidents” aren’t accidental at all; they’re the predictable price we all pay for relying on dirty energy sources.
Meanwhile the federal government has quietly lifted last year’s offshore fracking moratorium, which was the result of our lawsuit challenging the appalling lack of environmental analysis behind offshore fracking permits. Studies show that at least 10 chemicals commonly used to frack oil wells off California can kill or injure marine wildlife, including fish and sea otters.
Yet after issuing a cursory environmental review ignoring the risks that offshore fracking poses to California’s marine wildlife, federal officials lifted the moratorium. Oil companies have permission to annually dump up to 9 billion gallons of produced wastewater, including fracking chemicals, into the Pacific Ocean. Surfers and divers — along with whales, dolphins, and sport fish — could literally be swimming in toxic fracking fluid.
That’s not just gross — it’s a gross disservice to a state that loves its stunning and precious coastline and depends on healthy oceans for recreation, fishing, and its booming tourism economy. So get involved in the campaign and help California present a strong, unified voice in favor of clean, drill-free seas.
Blake Kopcho is a political organizer with the Center for Biological Diversity’s oceans program. More information of the campaign is at the center website: biologicaldiversity.org.