Santa Barbara County, the center of a national movement against offshore offshore oil drilling following a 1969 spill, has now, officially, changed its mind.
At an Aug. 26 hearing of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, a 3-2 majority opted to send a letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger requesting a change in state policy to allow the expansion of oil exploration—especially offshore drilling—in the county.
The board heard presentations from county staffers and several representatives of pro- and anti-oil organizations describing the current state of oil and natural gas production in the county.
The board also listened to comments—both for and against the expansion of oil exploration—from 80 speakers, including environmentalists, economists, and concerned citizens.
Heavy on the minds of everyone involved was the disastrous 1969 spill that dumped approximately 80,000 barrels of oil into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Santa Barbara.
“Since 1969, this county has had certain views on oil. But since then, there have been significant technological and procedural advances,” said Supervisor Brooks Firestone.
Firestone said offshore drilling would not only lower gas prices, but help the county’s economy.
Supervisor Salud Carbajal spoke out against sending the letter, noting that between 2002 and 2005, two large electrical transformers on an offshore oil and gas platform in the Santa Barbara Channel leaked nearly 400 gallons of fluid contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls. He said that there was no way to guarantee that companies wouldn’t allow such leaks in the future.
John Abraham Powell, president of the local environmental group Get Oil Out! (GOO), expressed his disappointment with the board, stating that many of the findings used in the draft letter to the governor were based on “oil industry-sponsored science perversion.”
“I am appalled that you would consider expanding oil exploration in the place known for the birth of the modern environmental movement,” Powell said.