Quantcast

3 Reasons Santa Barbara Oil Spill Underscores Why Obama Must Say #sHellNo to Arctic Drilling

Energy

Two weeks ago, a major oil spill in Santa Barbara County made headlines after a ruptured pipeline dumped as much as 101,000 gallons of crude oil on the California coastline. The spill stretched across roughly nine miles of state beach with tens of thousands of gallons entering marine protected areas in the Pacific Ocean.

Clean-up workers pass plastic bags full of oily debris from Refugio State Beach near Goleta after a 24-inch underground pipeline broke and leaked into a culvert leading to the Pacific Ocean. Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline said up to 105,000 gallons of oil were released before the pipeline was shut down. Photo credit: Jonathan Alcorn / Greenpeace

The spill took place just days after activists gathered in Seattle to oppose Shell’s plans to begin drilling for oil in the Alaskan Arctic this summer.

The Santa Barbara spill underscores what environmental leaders have been saying for decades, and the core of the message delivered to President Obama on Arctic drilling. When we drill, we spill.

So, what can we learn from this latest oil disaster? And what does it mean for the Arctic? As bad as the spill in Santa Barbara is—and it is—a spill in the Arctic would be much, much worse.

Here are three of the biggest reasons why.

An Arctic Spill Would Be Larger

The Santa Barbara spill was by no means small, but research indicates that an Arctic spill would likely be just as large, at least for the portion entering ocean waters.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard classification system, 101,000 gallons ranks Santa Barbara as a “major” spill. Counting only the 20,000 gallons that made their way into the ocean would qualify it as a “medium” spill.

But the Department of the Interior released findings earlier this year stating that—if Shell finds oil and can produce it—there’s a 75 percent chance of a spill greater than 42,000 gallons. Hundreds of smaller spills are virtually guaranteed.

Even barring an actual spill, Shell’s current drilling plan allows for the discharge of thousands of gallons of toxic drilling fluids and waste into the ocean.

Response Would Be More Difficult

Even for a relatively small spill, how to negotiate a cleanup in tricky Arctic conditions is a question neither Shell nor the Obama administration have been able to answer.

Cleanup in Santa Barbara will take months. CNN reported that less than 10 percent of the oil had been cleaned up as of last Thursday. Coast Guard Captain Jennifer Williams emphasized that currents and wind patterns make the ocean-borne oil slick a “moving target.” The disaster has already hurt the region’s $1.2 billion tourism industry.

Pretty bad, right? Now consider that the nearest Coast Guard station to Shell’s proposed drilling site in Alaska is more than 1,000 miles away. Icy waters with waves reaching 50 feet make rapid response in the likely event of a spill even more challenging. Shell estimates it could take about six days for responders just to reach the site of a spill, while oil would likely reach land within three days.

This Is Shell We’re Talking About

Plains All American Pipeline—the company responsible for the Santa Barbara spill—has a long track record of spills. It’s spilled more than 600,000 gallons and caused $23 million in property damages since 2006 even before this incident. A report just out yesterday even revealed that parts of the Santa Barbara pipeline were corroded.

That’s bad, but Shell is on another level. Shell’s disastrous 2012 foray into the Alaskan Arctic resulted in eight felony convictions, a $12 million fine, the wreck of its prized new Kulluk oil rig, and countless safety and environmental violations. Shell’s new plan—based on optimistic assumptions untested in the unique Arctic environment—does nothing to quell these doubts.

When We Drill, We Spill

This recent catastrophe in Santa Barbara makes it clear why we cannot drill in the Arctic—or anywhere, really. It’s not a matter of if a spill takes place, it’s when. If it’s happened in the calm waters of Santa Barbara (twice), why would we expect it to be any different in the Arctic?

It’s time for Shell and the Obama administration to face reality: when we drill, we spill. So let’s take a cue from the thousands of activists who came out strong in Seattle in May and say #sHellNo to Arctic drilling.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

State of Emergency Declared: California Oil Spill Now Estimated at 105,000 Gallons

Record Dolphin Die-Off Linked to Gulf Oil Spill

Tar Balls Wash Ashore Popular LA Beaches: Officials Consider Link to Santa Barbara Oil Spill

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A glacier is seen in the Kenai Mountains on Sept. 6, near Primrose, Alaska. Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey have been studying the glaciers in the area since 1966 and their studies show that the warming climate has resulted in sustained glacial mass loss as melting outpaced the accumulation of new snow and ice. Joe Raedle / Getty Images

By Mark Mancini

On Aug. 18, Iceland held a funeral for the first glacier lost to climate change. The deceased party was Okjökull, a historic body of ice that covered 14.6 square miles (38 square kilometers) in the Icelandic Highlands at the turn of the 20th century. But its glory days are long gone. In 2014, having dwindled to less than 1/15 its former size, Okjökull lost its status as an official glacier.

Read More Show Less
Members of Chicago Democratic Socialists of America table at the Logan Square Farmers Market on Aug. 18. Alex Schwartz

By Alex Schwartz

Among the many vendors at the Logan Square Farmers Market on Aug. 18 sat three young people peddling neither organic vegetables, gourmet cheese nor handmade crafts. Instead, they offered liberation from capitalism.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
StephanieFrey / iStock / Getty Images

By Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD

Muffins are a popular, sweet treat.

Read More Show Less
Hackney primary school students went to the Town Hall on May 24 in London after school to protest about the climate emergency. Jenny Matthews / In Pictures / Getty Images

By Caroline Hickman

Eco-anxiety is likely to affect more and more people as the climate destabilizes. Already, studies have found that 45 percent of children suffer lasting depression after surviving extreme weather and natural disasters. Some of that emotional turmoil must stem from confusion — why aren't adults doing more to stop climate change?

Read More Show Less
Myrtle warbler. Gillfoto / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Bird watching in the U.S. may be a lot harder than it once was, since bird populations are dropping off in droves, according to a new study.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announces the co-founding of The Climate Pledge at the National Press Club on Sept. 19 in Washington, DC. Paul Morigi / Getty Images for Amazon

The day before over 1,500 Amazon.com employees planned a walkout to participate in today's global climate strike, CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled a sweeping plan for the retail and media giant to be carbon neutral by 2040, 10 years ahead of the Paris agreement schedule.

Read More Show Less

By Winona LaDuke

For the past seven years, the Anishinaabe people have been facing the largest tar sands pipeline project in North America. We still are. In these dying moments of the fossil fuel industry, Water Protectors stand, prepared for yet another battle for the water, wild rice and future of all. We face Enbridge, the largest pipeline company in North America, and the third largest corporation in Canada. We face it unafraid and eyes wide open, for indeed we see the future.

Read More Show Less
The climate crisis often intensifies systems of oppression. Rieko Honma / Stone / Getty Images Plus

By Mara Dolan

We see the effects of the climate crisis all around us in hurricanes, droughts, wildfires, and rising sea levels, but our proximity to these things, and how deeply our lives are changed by them, are not the same for everyone. Frontline groups have been leading the fight for environmental and climate justice for centuries and understand the critical connections between the climate crisis and racial justice, economic justice, migrant justice, and gender justice. Our personal experiences with climate change are shaped by our experiences with race, gender, and class, as the climate crisis often intensifies these systems of oppression.

Read More Show Less