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Surfrider's Response to the Oil Spill in Santa Barbara County

Surfrider Foundation is deeply dismayed to report that on Tuesday, May 19th nearly 105,000 gallons of oil spilled when a pipeline broke onshore near Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County, resulting in a 4-mile-wide oil slick. This accident is a stark reminder of how dangerous and dirty oil drilling can be. Sadly this is not the first time this coastline has been impacted. In 1969 the Refugio State Beach area was devastated by another oil spill – the largest spill to have occurred in the waters off California and the third largest oil spill in U.S. waters. The 1969 incident helped to initiate the modern day environmental movement.

The Coast Guard reported that this week’s spill has been contained and that cleanup will begin promptly. We know many of you want to help, but it is imperative that only those with the proper training be involved with in the cleanup. Citizens should do not go near the spill, as oil contains dangerous chemicals.

Santa Barbara's coast and marine environment is an ecological treasure and will be significantly impacted by this event, as will the economy and recreational use of the area. The spill illustrates why offshore drilling is not the answer, and why we are vehemently opposed to new offshore drilling off the Atlantic coast which is a possibility in our near future. 

“Sadly, once the oil is spilled it is too late. As we are again learning in Santa Barbara, once the disaster has occurred we can only try to minimize the damage,” said Dr. Chad Nelsen, CEO of the Surfrider Foundation. “That is why the Surfrider Foundation has consistently opposed the expansion of offshore oil drilling into new areas and we ask you to join us in that opposition. We need a strong public response to combat special interests who are constantly pressing for more drilling along our precious coastlines.” 

For decades our coasts were protected from new offshore oil drilling. However, in 2008, President Bush and Congress lifted federal moratoria on new offshore drilling making our nation's coastlines vulnerable to the expansion of oil and gas development. 

In April, 2010, the risks of offshore drilling were exposed to the world when the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig exploded and released approximately 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Beaches and coastal wetlands from Louisiana to the Florida panhandle were impacted – killing birds, fish, marine mammals and devastating the recreation and fishing-based economies of the Gulf States. 

Yet, despite these lessons, the federal government is proposing to expand oil and gas development off our coastlines. The Draft 5 Year Offshore Drilling Plan released by the Obama Administration for 2017 - 2022 includes scheduled lease sales in the Mid- and South Atlantic and the Arctic Ocean.

It was a bad idea when President Bush and Congress let 30 years of bipartisan support for the Federal OCS drilling moratorium lapse. The moratorium was put in place in response to the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. The Gulf Oil Spill and the recent Santa Barbara oil spill are stark reminders that offshore oil drilling puts our ocean and coasts at risk and threatens our coastal environments, communities and economies. First, the new federal leasing program should not open any new areas to oil drilling. Second, it’s time for the Obama and Congress to reestablish the Federal Moratorium that was designed specifically to avoid oil spills like these in any new areas of our coast.

The Surfrider Foundation is opposed to offshore oil drilling in new areas. Our nation’s ocean, waves and beaches are vital recreational, economic and ecological treasures that will be polluted by an increase in offshore oil drilling. Instead of advocating for transient and environmentally harmful ways to meet America’s oil needs, we should seek a comprehensive and environmentally sustainable energy plan that includes energy conservation.