Fifty years after Santa Barbara disaster, time to end oil drilling

Last week marked 50 years since the most disastrous oil spill in California history. The Santa Barbara oil spill spewed three million gallons of crude oil into the Pacific Ocean beginning on Jan. 27, 1969, killing thousands of birds, fish and sea animals.

The spill produced a 35-mile long oil slick along the California coast, devastating coastal communities that rely on these beaches for their livelihoods.

Our state has not issued a new oil and gas lease off California’s coast since that day, and for good reason. The disaster showed us in the clearest possible way how much we have to lose when we open our oceans to the fossil fuel industry. But here’s the problem: The Trump Administration is working on a new plan to expand offshore oil drilling and targeting California’s coast.

In addition, while California has not issued new oil drilling leases, it has continued to operate aging oil rigs off of our coasts. If California truly wants to lead on creating a clean energy future, stopping new oil drilling isn’t enough. We must aggressively plan to shut down existing drilling across the state.

Half a century after the Santa Barbara oil spill, and with latest science showing 12 short years to avoid catastrophic climate change, anything less is putting our future at risk.


Some California lawmakers are beginning to take up this charge. Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara) is introducing legislation to block all new drilling off the coast of California, a bill that if passed would effectively thwart the Trump administration’s plan to hand our coasts over to the oil industry. He’s joined by six other House members from across the country in introducing bills to block drilling expansion off of nearly every U.S. coastline.

Thankfully, California’s new leaders in the House of Representatives have vowed to help lead the way. Freshman members of Congress like Mike Levin, Katie Hill, Harley Rouda, Josh Harder, Katie Porter, Gil Cisneros and TJ Cox made clear from day one that they will reject the politics of pollution and stand firmly with California’s communities, wildlife and natural resources.

Mary Creasman
Courtesy of California League of Conservation Voters

No action is bold enough at this point.

The solutions are there – we just need to go all-in on them. And the ball is in Governor Gavin Newsom’s court to act — with urgency — to push the boundaries of California’s climate and energy leadership.

A recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns we have just 12 years left to act. It’s not enough to halt new drilling off our coastlines. We can’t be the leaders of a clean energy future if we’re propping up the dirty practices of the past.

With California bursting into flames every few months, struggling to survive regular droughts and adapting to deadly floods and mudslides, we are experiencing enough man-made disasters to know we have to do things differently.

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Trump has made it clear that he’ll continue to deny science and put us all in jeopardy, so long as the oil industry cashes in. It’s up to our leaders in California to protect the future of our state and lead the country by making certain we don’t forget our past. Through the tragedy in Santa Barbara 50 years ago, we know better.

Now, let’s do better.

Mary Creasman is CEO of the California League of Conservation Voters (CLCV).