Why Ocean Protection Matters and What We Can Do Locally

Written by Sabaitide

The Ventura and Santa Barbara area is a beautiful place that we get to call home. We’re located on the central coast at the heart of the Channel Islands National Park, we have a great view of Anacapa and Santa Cruz Islands, and even The Beach Boys tip their hats off to our surf. We’re so blessed to be here, but while this all seems picture perfect on social media, it is still imperative that we take local action to protect our beaches so that we can all continue to enjoy going to the beach. We simply cannot wait for the next oil disaster to happen here in order to take action.

In October, there was a major oil spill off the coast of Huntington Beach, where at least 24,696 gallons of oil spilled from the broken pipeline, and to date, 549k lbs of oily sand and debris have been removed from local beaches. The oil itself is very toxic to our environment and our health, and the spill has had dire consequences for the ocean, wildlife, and community there. Now, what does that have to do with us? Our surf was actually pretty sweet that weekend. Well, with a heavy conscience about ocean protection and oil fields in our own backyard, I sure hope that an oil spill will never happen here or anywhere else again. 

Both The Surfrider Foundation and Surfline have compared the recent spill in Huntington Beach to the 2015 oil spill in Santa Barbara. Surfline wrote that, “The most recent and comparable catastrophe was the Refugio State Beach oil spill in Santa Barbara in 2015. During that event, 142,800 gallons of crude oil were spilled into the ocean after a corroded pipeline burst” (Pierson), while The Surfrider Foundation added that, “The spill resulted in a 13-mile wide oil slick off Orange County, California, roughly the same size as the spill that hit Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara in 2015. This accident is yet another stark reminder of how dangerous and dirty offshore oil and gas drilling can be” (Stauffer). That striking comparison brings this issue back home.

The oil disaster at Refugio State Beach resulted in the shut down of the Plains All-American pipeline, however, the issue was not resolved then and there. The Santa Barbara Independent reported that, “After the 2015 Refugio Oil spill shut down Plains All American’s pipeline from Gaviota, ExxonMobil proposed in 2017 to move crude from its Las Flores Canyon facility via 140 oil-truck trips up the 101 to Santa Maria and then along the 166” (Yamamura). The proposal to truck oil was very risky and resulted in yet another oil spill in 2020 when a trucking accident spilled 6,000 gallons of oil into the Cuyama River (“Stop Oil Trucking in Santa Barbara”). 

The Surfrider Foundation is part of a coalition working on this issue and detailed that, “Exxon’s offshore oil platforms Harmony, Heritage, and Hondo have been offline since the Plains Pipeline spill in 2015. If Exxon is permitted to truck oil, those three aging platforms will be brought back to life, putting our coastal economy at risk of another devastating oil spill” (“Stop Oil Trucking in Santa Barbara”). Even after the oil spill at Refugio State Beach and the trucking accident that resulted in the spill into the Cuyama River, ExxonMobil did not want to drop its local operation. In September of 2021, the issue was finally brought before the Santa Barbara County’s Planning Commission and Exxon’s operation was denied in a 3-2 vote (Cruz). The project still needs final denial from the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors.

The issue didn’t end five years ago. This serious problem still persists to this day because the oil industry would rather do all they can to save their profits at our expense—and offshore oil drilling is simply not worth the risk. This is not just a distant problem that we’ll read in the news or get lost in our newsfeed. This is still our problem and we have been fighting this issue for well over five years, however, the stakes have certainly been raised in 2021. Although we have seen far too many environmental accidents and natural disasters around the world in a single year alone, there remains a greater demand for more oil than ever—and I just don’t get it. Wasn’t it known since the 1980’s that the carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels will cause the disasters described by what we now know as climate change?

In 2015, Inside Climate News exposed that ExxonMobil’s own internal research warned the company of the potential implications of climate change. In 1978, James F. Black, a senior scientist from the company, warned that, “Carbon dioxide from the world’s use of fossil fuels would warm the planet and could eventually endanger humanity…Rainfall might get heavier in some regions, and other places might turn to desert” (Banerjee et al.). In other words, Black essentially warned Exxon of the year 2021. This was the year where severe and simultaneous flooding and wildfires have ravaged communities all around the world. It’s actually gotten to the point that climate change is no longer deniable. 

On top of the series of natural disasters, there have been so many environmental accidents this last year alone. There have been multiple oil spills over this last summer, like the spill in July that resulted in an underwater fire in the Gulf of Mexico which went viral on the internet and the lesser publicized cargo ship fire in May that was an environmental tragedy for the shores of Sri Lanka. The oil spills in Sri Lanka and the Gulf of Mexico might have lost media coverage, but someone still needs to be held accountable for months of irreversible environmental damage even if it’s no longer covered in the mainstream news. 

My point is that these environmental disasters aren’t just happening in vague places around the world. They’re also happening right here in California. The oil spill in Huntington Beach did not need to happen in order to remind us of that, and my message for my hometown is that we cannot wait for the next oil disaster to happen here in order to take more urgent action to stop offshore oil drilling and to protect the ocean in other coastal communities.

More recently, onshore in Ventura, Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) proposed to expand its compressor station located on Ventura Avenue. The biggest conflict with this was that this compressor station is located across the street from an elementary school and a Boys & Girls Club (“SoCalGas Plans to Expand Ventura Compressor Station”). I, personally, attended that elementary school when I was a kid and went to that Boys & Girls Club after school. I was not aware of all of this growing up, and it has been upsetting to learn that the oil industry would rather put our community at serious risk for their own profit. Compressor stations are dangerous, toxic, and not fair to the lower-income community of color that it is located next to, and so I brought attention to this local issue to remind you all that the oil industry does not care if the next accident happens here.

The Food & Water Watch stated that, “The oil industry wasn’t going to let these new regulations pass easily, so they started to buy their way out of trouble. They poured over a million dollars into media buys and the election of oil-friendly politicians to the Board of Supervisors” (“Why is Big Oil Spending Millions to Fight Ventura County Residents?”). This issue rose to the surface in the recent October 2021 Congressional hearing where the top executives in the oil industry testified under oath about the role of fossil fuels in the climate crisis. The oil industry acknowledged the negative impacts of fossil fuels on climate change, however, refuse to take accountability (United States). It was soon made very clear that the point of the hearing was to address how their remarks do not align with their actions and knowledge on the matter, resulting in a spew of disinformation. 

This is where we’re now at on this issue and none of this was breaking news. Yes, we still need oil, but we need to minimize the environmental risks that come with it and do what we can to transition to renewable energy. On the surface, the oil industry can claim to support efforts to lower carbon emissions and throw their money at research, but when we take a look at local operations like ExxonMobil’s risky plan to truck oil in Santa Barbara and SoCalGas’s plan to expand a compressor station across the street from an elementary school in Ventura, it shows us that we’re not too far from the source of the issue. 

We can’t allow this to happen in our own backyard, sweep the problem under the rug, wink at the oil industry like everything’s okay, and not care about it until it spoils the surf. Our coastal community can change the system, and we need to embrace sustainability so that we let our elected officials know to follow suit. Just like how we banned plastic bags and straws, I want to imagine a world where there is no longer the looming risk of another possible oil spill to cause harm to the ocean. I want to imagine a new horizon where I can look towards the Channel Islands from my favorite beach and not see all of these offshore oil drills in the distance.

Offshore oil drilling can end here.

December 14, 2021

Sabaitide is an emerging Asian American artist and writer from Ventura Avenue who is curious to explore the duality of oil and water because of the environment she’s from. As an artist, she expresses oil and water through her oil paintings, and as a writer, she is developing a book inspired by her art as she pursues her MFA in Writing and Media. As of now, she is currently preparing for her first art show called “The Sky Hasn’t Fallen Yet.” Sabaitide is continuing to expand her portfolio as she captures the ups and downs of the creative process on her blog www.sabaitide.com.

Follow her on Instagram! @sabaitide