Tripod Editorial: California Oil Spill Reminds Us of Need for Change

This past Sunday, Oct. 3, a pipeline breach occurred five miles off of the coast of Huntington Beach.  There are about 17.5 miles between the pipeline and the shore, and the situation has been classified by the Coast Guard as a “major oil spill.” The spill has infiltrated the entirety of the Talbert Wetlands and has significantly impacted the wildlife in this area. The amount of oil that leaked is equal to about 126,000 gallons of post-production crude, and according to Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr, is a “potential ecological disaster.” The carefully cultivated land that has been taken care of by Orange County officials in collaboration with the Army Corps of Engineers and the Land Trust has not been completely destroyed in the span of a single day. Offshore oil drilling has always been a point of controversy, especially in this day in age when there are tar sand oils,  fracking natural gas, and the need for conversion to renewable forms of energy like wind, solar, hydroelectric, and geothermal. As of the morning of Sunday, Oct. 3, the leak had not been completely stopped, and the oil slick plume measured an estimated 5.8 nautical miles long, from the Huntington Beach Pier down into Newport Beach.  Once hosts to amazing forms of wildlife and scenic areas to walk along, these beaches are now off limits to visitors in order to prevent contact with “potentially toxic oiled areas.”

Instances like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill resulted in the death of 11 workers. During this particularly historic spill, an estimated 4,900,000 barrels of oil leaked into the gulf. The petroleum that leaked from the well before it was sealed extended more than 57,500 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico, and oil contaminated beaches of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. All in all, an estimated 1,100 miles of shoreline were polluted back in June of 2010. One might think that after such an occurance When rigs like this are active, it becomes unavoidable that they will spill, causing insurmountable damage. Although we’ve gone through periods of mitigated offshore drilling, the practice has obviously continued. Back in 2016, the Obama administration “permanently” banned offshore oil and gas drililng in the “vast majority” of US-owned northern waters. This was part of former President Obama’s attempt to solidify his environmental legacy before leaving office, and were intended, according to a White House statement in the Washingtin Post, to “reflect the scientific assessment that… the risks of an oil spill in this region are significant and our ability to clean up from a spill in the region’s harsh conditions is limited.” Although Huntington Beach is by no means the arctic, it still incredibly difficult to clean up a spill of the size of the one that occurred this past Sunday. It is also just as damanging to the environment regardless of what kind of environment the spill occurs in.

After a recent trip to the very part of Newport Beach that is currently littered with blobs of oil and dead sea life washing ashore, I was disheartened to hear of the stark difference just a few months can make in the appearance of a once scenic beach, and how likely spills like these are to occur. The facilities that operate the pipeline were built in the 1970s and 1980s, according to CEO of the Houston-based oil and gas company Amplify Energy (the company that owns the burst pipeline) Martyn Willsher. Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley also relayed that the pipeline had likely been leaking “longer than we know.”  

Why do we allow offshore drilling when they don’t even have the means to control major leaks of deep water rigs? We got off easy this time, and that says a great deal considering the ecological impact of this spill alone. Who knows what will happen the next time a spill occurs especially since rigs are aging with every passing day. The longer these rigs are out there in the harsh salt of the ocean water environment, the greater the chance for major leaks as the equipment corrodes. It is not a matter of if there will be another major spill, but rather a matter of when. We have the means to do away with oil drilling, so why continue this damaging practice? 

We need to transition to renewable sources of energy to avoid climate change disasters and even our own extinction. Continuing to burn fossil fuels at current rates will lead to increasingly incalculable damage to the environment, and hence to humans. Drilling for oil causes short and long term damage to our world, our environment, and our climate. Thus, the practice should be eliminated. If it is not, drilling practices will inevitably lead to the continuation of these kinds of spills, and closer and closer to our shores, as the Huntington Beach spill indicates. These spills will continue to happen in the shallow, continental shelf regions which are rich with biodiversity and are particularly sensitive to spills. 


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