Written by Sarah Salvini, CCKA Legal Intern from UC Irvine Law School
When you think of California you imagine our beautiful beaches, a thriving coastal economy, and diverse ecosystems. We Californians cherish that image. But we understand the precarious nature of our paradise. We know that underneath the glittering water and crashing waves, oil courses through a web of pipes—extracted and distributed—climbing its way up to the beach and onto the coast, waiting to quickly and irrevocably seep into our most cherished places.
We cannot escape the constant threat that oil spills pose to our way of life. Oil platforms along the coast sit stark against the glowing horizon of the setting sun. They are an imposing reminder of the devastation caused by oil spills of the past.
- In 1969, 4.2 million gallons of crude oil spilled into the ocean off the coast of Santa Barbara from a blowout of a Union Oil drilling rig platform.
- In 1971, 800,000 gallons of bunker fuel spilled into San Francisco Bay from two oil tankers colliding.
- In 1990, 416,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into the ocean off the coast of Huntington Beach from an American Trader oil tanker.
- And in 2015, 100,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into the ocean at Refugio State Beach near Santa Barbara from the rupture of a pipeline transporting oil inland from offshore platforms.
These events cast a glaring spotlight on the risks of oil development. Not only do oil spills harm coastal wildlife and ecosystems, but they endanger our $42.3 billion economy produced from fishing, tourism, and recreation along the coast, and they risk the jobs of 596,254 Californians who rely on the ocean for their livelihoods.
Aware of these risks, Californians officially ceased expanding offshore oil development in state waters in 1994 when the California Coastal Sanctuary Act was passed. And in 2018, 69% of Californians reported that they oppose the expansion of offshore oil development.
So when President Trump announced that he wants to open all of the federal waters along the California coast to further oil development, Californians were shocked and alarmed.
In Executive Order 13795, Trump declared his America-First Offshore Energy Strategy, which would auction off drilling rights to 90 percent of the Outer Continental Shelf that was previously protected, including the entire California coast. These sales would drastically increase the risk of devastating oil spills that could shut down fisheries, close beachside businesses, and deter visiting tourists.
Californians quickly turned their shock into action, and a wide spectrum of the public rallied to oppose Trump’s plan. The business community formed the Business Alliance to Protect the Pacific Coast to voice their opinion that Trump’s plan poses an unacceptable and unnecessary risk to California businesses and the lifestyles of their customers and employees.
Californians pushed for political action as well, and SB 834 (Jackson) and AB 1775 (Muratsuchi) were signed into law in 2018. These bills effectively isolate any new oil and gas development in federal waters by prohibiting the construction of infrastructure, such as pipelines, that would connect those developments to the coast. Currently, Californians are working to move in the opposite direction of new development, by pushing for SB 551 (Jackson) which instead of supporting new oil drilling, advances the decommissioning of oil rigs already in use.
And now, Californians have taken the fight to the federal level. Last month, our Representatives in the United States House, including Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara), Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), and six other co-sponsors from California, led the push to pass a bi-partisan amendment that would prohibit the federal government from spending any money on the pursuit of new oil and gas drilling in the upcoming year. If these amendments make it through the final House vote and the Republican-controlled Senate, the amendments will add a layer of federal protection in addition to a U.S. District Court decision in Alaska that has at least temporarily stalled the Trump administration.
While Californians have pushed hard to combat Trump’s greed and disregard for our livelihoods with his expansion plan, we are not yet in the clear. We must continue to push our representatives in D.C. to fight against Trump, and we must be conscious of those here on our coast, looking to take advantage of Trump’s oil-friendly stance. DCOR LLC, an oil company that operates several offshore oil drills in Southern California has, for the first time in its history, hired a lobbying firm in D.C. to push on “federal policy issues related to oil and natural gas exploration.” And on the Central Coast, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper is working against Exxon Mobil’s push to reopen three platforms in federal waters that have been shut in since the 2015 pipeline burst and to potentially expand their use beyond their intended lifetime.
Our coastal ecosystems are precious intrinsically and economically, Californians must stay vigilant in the fight to protect them.