Environmentalists and oil companies form rare relationship in response to oil seepage

Adam Jablonowski Contributor
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A rare relationship between environmental groups and oil companies formed in response to the Coal Oil Point seepage off the Santa Barbara coast.

The Santa Barbara coast is home to one of the most active naturally occurring oil seeps in the world, where oil and methane pour out of the sea floor into the ocean, making it one of the most abundant sources of pollution along the North American coast.

This year has seen a dramatic increase in oil-coated birds off the coast of Santa Barbara, reported the Santa Barbara News Press. Since January more than 200 murres, pelicans, loons and grebes have been treated for oil-related injuries at the Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network. Last year the WCN treated 100 birds.

The National Academy of Sciences determined that the volume of this seepage accounts for two-thirds of all petroleum pollution in North American waters, while only supplying one percent of domestic petroleum.

Currently, all oil drilling off the coast of California takes place on Platform Holly, located 12 miles from Santa Barbara. The South Ellwood offshore field is home to over a billion barrels of oil, according to the Department of Energy. These reserves expel about 86,000 barrels of oil into the ocean each year.

To put the effects of the seep in context, the Dos Cuadras oil spill put roughly the same amount of oil into the ocean in 1969 and covered over 35 miles of beachfront. The oil seep has recently brought environmentalist groups to the negotiating table in hopes that drilling will reduce its impact on wildlife.

Studies show that deep-water drilling has significantly reduced the natural seepage of oil around Platform Holly.

The area around Platform Holly exhibited a 50 percent decrease in natural seepage over 22 years, according to a 1999 study released by the University of California Santa Barbara’s Energy Institute and the U.S. Minerals Management Service. As the oil was pumped out of the reservoir, the pressure driving the seepage dropped.

In light of these studies the Tranquillion Ridge Project has received support from both local environmental groups and oil companies. This project would give new drilling leases to oil company Plains Exploration and Production Co. so long as they dismantle four of their platforms by 2022.

“This is the first time ever the environmental community has been in so much dialogue,” a member the local environmental group GOO!, told the Santa Barbara News Press. “[It] show[s] that we are willing to think outside of the box and to truly look for creative solutions” she added.

The American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, approved earlier this year, will resume oil and natural gas leasing off the Santa Barbara coast, but further litigation determined that no new platforms would be approved.

In an interview with The Daily Caller, Kenneth Green of the American Enterprise Institute explained why California is hesitant to build new platforms.

“California is very concerned with not mucking up its horizon” Green said.  But he added that “by not developing oil production, California is wasting opportunity.”

California Democratic Rep. Lois Capps, a green energy advocate who represents a large coastal district including Santa Barbara, strongly opposed the “horrible provisions” in the jobs act that would allow new oil drilling in the area. “[We] should be investing our time, energy and creativity into real solutions that put us on the path toward clean energy solutions for our future” she said in a press release.

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