When Dirty Oil Is Clean

Is 2020 the New 1984?

Credit: Orwell for Dummies by John Cole, The Scranton Times-Tribune, PA

According to George Orwell’s classic book 1984, Big Brother tells us lies and convinces us they are truth. Today we might refer to this as “spin.”

We in Santa Barbara County are spinning as a result of the marriage between Big Oil and the Trump administration.

Let’s start with Aera Energy, for example. Co-owned by Exxon and Shell, Aera faced such vehement opposition to its plan to drill in Cat Canyon that it went back to the drawing board to satisfy the demands of John Parke, County Planning Commission chair. Aera came back, claiming it would submit a new proposal that it touts as environmentally friendly — and that it has yet to put on the table.

Aera’s publicity material states that the company proposes to reduce the number of new oil wells from 296 to 185, preserve 500 acres of the site for hiking and educational purposes, plant “hundreds of trees,” and capture carbon by applying compost to the soil.

Sounds great, but this is not the whole story. First, this reduced project would still generate nearly 2 million tons of carbon pollution annually, more than our county’s greenhouse gas allotment. Second, hiking through a massive industrial operation and using the site as a classroom — for children! — while oil tankers drive crude in and out, and heavy equipment and steam generators pollute the air, are unhealthy and ill-advised, to state the obvious.

The proposed carbon farming would offset only 0.025 percent of the pollution produced. This doesn’t come close to compensating for the carbon loss from the plants and trees that will be bulldozed to install the pumps.

This clever spin is known as “green-washing.” Aera is telling us that its project is not harmful, but actually beneficial to our environment.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has issued its own Orwellian spin: A study on fracking that found that it poses no significant environmental or health impacts.

Despite thousands of letters of opposition received by the Bureau of Land Management, the study was fast-tracked in order to adhere to an executive order that will ultimately allow oil companies to lease federally controlled mineral rights for oil development for as little as $2 an acre. Many of the taxpayer-owned lands targeted for drilling and fracking are near schools and on or near ecological reserves and drinking water reservoirs, as well as indigenous sacred sites.

Finally, ExxonMobil (yes, them again) is proposing to truck oil from Gaviota to refineries in Kern County until a pipeline can be rebuilt to replace the Plains All-American Pipeline that broke in 2015, causing 143,000 gallons to spill onto our beaches and our ocean. They argue that trucking oil is safe.

Think about it: Seventy oil-filled tankers a day, 24/7, on the 101 and the windy and dangerous 166 between Santa Maria and Kern, creating increased potential for accidents. During the Thomas Fire, when hundreds of people needed to evacuate, a tanker truck accident shut down the 101. People were able to evacuate on surface roads, but if this were to happen on the Gaviota Coast, there are no alternate routes.

A recent poll shows that a majority of Americans would like to see oil and natural gas drilling curtailed or maintained at current levels. We know that there are effective and affordable alternative sources of energy to power our cars, provide heat and light for our homes, and create the jobs we need now and in the future.

Do you see the larger pattern here? Our precious lands and ocean are being targeted from all sides in an Orwellian scenario that brazenly presents misinformation as truth. If Santa Barbara County and California, where the environmental movement began as a result of a disastrous oil spill and where we have recently experienced numerous climate disasters, fall for these schemes, there is little hope for the rest of the nation.

And don’t believe that Governor Gavin Newsom’s much-touted moratorium on the approval of new hydraulic fracturing in the state will be effective. As stated in this newspaper, many of the proposed oil projects, including those in Cat Canyon, are excluded due to technicalities regarding the intensity and type of steam injection. Many of us cheered when the moratorium was announced; but on a second look, the reach of the moratorium appears to be massively disappointing.

Dirty oil tells us they are clean. Our regulators don’t regulate. Our protectors don’t protect. Will we allow special interests that have only their own profit at heart to decide the future of our land?

Let’s shout it out: We don’t need their oil, their pollution, or their empty promises.

In March and in November, ensure that our local Board of Supervisors, our members of Congress, and our state and national officials will stand up on behalf of our health and our environment. Use your vote and your voice.

N.B.: This op-ed originally indicated Aera had submitted a proposal to decrease the number of its wells; that proposal has yet to be submitted.

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