As the oil spill disaster worsens in the Gulf of Mexico, Californians may recall the last time a major oil rig accident occurred that fouled our own coast for many years.
On January 29, 1969 a blowout occurred on Union Oil Co. oil rig some six miles off the coast of Summerland, Calif. Similar to the Deepwater Horizon explosion, the 1969 accident involved a natural gas blowout from a well nearly 3,500 ft. below the ocean floor. The short term fix by capping the the break created a much larger problem as pressure began building undersea that caused breaks along a fault on the ocean floor that vented out thousands of gallons of oil and gas.
While Gulf Coast rigs deal with hurricanes from year to year, designing offshore drilling rigs for California has its own challenges being in a region laced with known and unknown fault systems along the coast.
For more than a week, some 200,000 gallons of oil spread out over 750 miles, coating the California coastline for more than 30 miles with sludge from Rincon Point to Goleta along the Santa Barbara shoreline. The oil slick would later impact Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and San Miguel Islands.
Even after a permanent fix was applied to the undersea rupture, smaller amounts of oil continued spilling out along the coast for months.
Then President Richard Nixon issued a statement on the California oil spill: "It is sad that it was necessary that Santa Barbara should be the example that had to bring it to the attention of the American people. What is involved is the use of our resources of the sea and of the land in a more effective way and with more concern for preserving the beauty and the natural resources that are so important to any kind of society that we want for the future. The Santa Barbara incident has frankly touched the conscience of the American people."
As you might imagine, public sentiment rallied against future oil drilling off the California coast for years to come. GOO! (Get Oil Out!) formed as a local group aiming to shutdown offshore oil drilling. In fact, many will say the Santa Barbara Channel oil spill was the moment California’s and the nation’s modern environmental moment began.
Flash forward to today’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and one has to wonder if the current administration’s recent policy move to allow more exploration and drilling for oil off our shores will likewise see a rapid change in public opinion.
If California’s history serves as an example, a new generation’s rallying cry to stop offshore drilling will likely get louder with every gallon of oil washing ashore on the Gulf Coast.