Water Quality, Oil Spill
August 23 2016

‘Rigs To Grief’: A Bad Oil Bill, Stopped

by Jennifer Savage

Some threats are overt: oil spilling across the beach into the ocean, corroding pipelines, companies seeking new offshore drilling rights. Some are less so, like SB 233, a bill proposed by State Senator Robert Hertzberg earlier this year. SB 233 would have weakened existing law to encourage ocean disposal of abandoned offshore oil and gas rigs, and emphasized the short-term impacts of fully removing spent rigs over the benefits of completely removing disused oil platforms. The latter result would have been particularly galling as it would have reduced the obligations that oil companies willingly entered into through their original contacts.

Nicknamed the "Rigs to Grief" bill by a diverse coalition of state and national conservation organizations (a riff on the "Rigs to Reef" sales pitch utilized by supporters), the bill ignored the fact that leaving parts of abandoned oil rigs at sea would lead to longterm pollution of the marine environment – the rigs and surrounding debris contain toxic chemicals including arsenic, zinc, lead and PCBs. In addition, the State could be liable for any accidents that result from these underwater hazards.

Ocean advocates sprang into action, calling for California's legislature to vote down the bill in opposition letters. In a press release, Richard Charter, Senior Fellow with The Ocean Foundation, explained, “Oil companies are trying to use this bill to blatantly renege on their longstanding contractual commitment to remove platforms when production is completed.”

Additionally, “Most of the oil platforms off the coast of California are located in the Santa Barbara Channel, one of the most biologically rich places on the planet. To allow ocean dumping of unused oil platforms threatens this amazing ecosystem, and could set a precedent for other industries to pollute our marine environment,” said Linda Krop, Chief Counsel of the Environmental Defense Center, a public interest environmental law firm headquartered in Santa Barbara.

"This is another example of the public being asked to shoulder long-term risk for the immediate benefits of the oil companies," noted Jennifer Savage, California Policy Manager for the Surfrider Foundation.

As action alerts were being prepared, word came in that the bill had "died" in committee – great news for marine critters and other living things! In this case, we were able to squash the bill without resorting to direct pressure from our supporters, yet it's the proven effectiveness of our grassroots activist network that makes Surfrider such a powerful organization. We're grateful we were able to sink this terrible proposed legislation and honored to know that with the click of a button, thousands of Surfrider members would've joined the outcry.