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Never Forget: the 1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill

On the afternoon of January 29, 1969, an environmental nightmare began in Santa Barbara. A Union Oil Co. platform stationed six miles off the coast of Summerland suffered a blowout. The platform ruptured because of inadequate protective casing.

For eleven days, oil workers struggled to cap the rupture. During that time, 200,000 gallons of crude oil bubbled to the surface and was spread into a 800 square mile slick by winds and swells. Incoming tides brought the thick tar to beaches from Rincon Point to Goleta, marring 35 miles of coastline.
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Beaches with off-shore kelp forests were spared the worst as kelp fronds kept most of the tar from coming ashore. The slick also moved south, tarring Anacapa Island’s Frenchy’s Cove and beaches on Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and San Miguel Islands.

Animals that depended on the sea were hard hit. Incoming tides brought the corpses of dead seals and dolphins. Oil had clogged the blowholes of the dolphins, causing massive lung hemorrhages. Animals that ingested the oil were poisoned.

However, in the spring following the oil spill, Earth Day was born nationwide. Many consider the publicity surrounding the oil spill a major impetus to the environmental movement… “It is sad that it was necessary that Santa Barbara should be the example that had to bring it to the attention of the American people. What is involved is the use of our resources of the sea and of the land in a more effective way and with more concern for preserving the beauty and the natural resources that are so important to any kind of society that we want for the future. The Santa Barbara incident has frankly touched the conscience of the American people,” said Richard Nixon, President of the United States at the time of the spill.

16 Responses to “Never Forget: the 1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill”

  1. pedronava

    It is important to remember this critical event in our history. And vital that we don’t forget the lessons learned. No matter what the oil companies say, spills are inevitable-and the clean up technology is always ultimately people in hazmat suits with straw and buckets.

    Our area can’t afford a spill. The oil would reach our beaches in hours and poison tourism and commercial fishing for years. That’s why I fought so vigorously against the PXP nightmare that some were trying to bring to our coast. 30 new wells from an aging platform supervised by a federal agency proven to be incompetent, inept and in some cases corrupt.

    Santa Barbara would have been the site of the only new drilling along the entire Western seaboard and we would have forever compromised our ability to protect the rest of state waters. And, no way to enforce the fairy tale “end date” to drilling.

  2. el_smurfo

    And we’re been filling out tanks with unicorn smiles ever since…oh wait, actually, we’ve been so reliant on foreign energy it has bankrupted our country with Imperialist foreign wars and politics. At least the plovers are safe here on our pristine beaches.

  3. Were getting closer to repeating this in Carp with more expansion

  4. SB Citizen

    I found the video (from Al Jazeera) interesting if not always accurate. They stated that no rigs have been removed since the ’69 blowout. I remember about 10 years ago 4 rigs were removed off from Carpenteria.

  5. pedronava

    It is disappointing to note that I found no other stories reminding us of this dark stain on Santa Barbara’s history. Last year I remarked about the folly of the PXP scheme-and we have to remember who was promoting new offshore oil drilling in state waters.

    There is a candidate running right now for State Senate (19th District) who was paid to promote the PXP deal. Does anyone know how much money she received for her efforts ? Efforts that fortunately were unsuccessful.

    • Rather obscure reference: those not that familiar with California state senate boundaries might wonder on the identity of that candidate. Hannah-Beth Jackson? And has she been formally asked by the media if she was paid to promote PXP and, if so how much?

  6. it appears to me there working harder than ever off the coast. Didn’t Obama mention in the state of the union he’s opening 75% of the US coastline for exploration. I’m rather confused by liberals who deny pipelines and Alaskan drilling, when they know any minute another event like deepwater horizen can happen. It must be the very generous campaign contributions from the oil companies who own those rigs… (BP and its employees have given more than $3.5 million to federal candidates over the past 20 years, with the largest chunk of their money going to Obama, BP spent almost 16 million dollars lobbying the federal government the year before the disaster.)

  7. NO-hussein O-2012

    I wonder what we are going to do? foreign oil, elect cars with battery’s so toxic when they are spent most tree huggers dont want to talk about it. EPA no drilling here. Stop with the guzzlers? ride mopeds. thank god the snowy plovers arent getting shot!

  8. pedronava

    While the President’s proposal did not include the California coast for new drilling, we have to ask ourselves who will best be able to continue to protect the CA coast, and I don’t think it’s someone who has already received $$ to promote for new drilling of our coast-

    “..Obama’s statement that he will open “more than 75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources” essentially affirmed the Department of Interior’s five-year oil and gas leasing program announced in November…”

    “..The plan calls for 15 potential lease sales in 2012-17 period, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico and three off the coast of Alaska…”

    “…The Pacific Coast was not included, the plan said, in deference to a 2006 agreement by the governors of California, Oregon and Washington opposing energy development off their coasts…”

    “…But after 2017, “all bets are off for California,” said Charter, a senior fellow with The Ocean Foundation, a nonprofit environmental group….”

  9. ViewingSB

    Good to remember especially when a whistleblowers suits against BP for punishing those who said clean up efforts were not enough, and the release of documents this week that showed BP intentionally hid/misled with their data on the flow rate of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the 1st months happened within the last wek. You also cant trust the government though the White House released data showing assets working the spill on a daily basis at the high point they counted over 5500 vessels (avg at the height according to them was thousands each day) working on a single day on the spill. The USCG Command Center in charge though couldn’t account for more than 500-700 vessels on any given day and could not back up the administration numbers.

  10. Interesting timing for the front page headline of today’s LATimes, although a bit hidden in the online version, about Brown loosening state controls on oil companies, “Brown ordered firing of regulator who took hard line on oil firms
    The dispute centered on a risky method of extraction. California’s governor has sued oil companies throughout his career, but he now talks of tossing cumbersome regulations to revive the economy.”

  11. Interesting timing for the front page headline of today’s LATimes, although a bit hidden in the online version, about Brown loosening state controls on oil companies,,0,1986503.story.

    “Brown ordered firing of regulator who took hard line on oil firms
    The dispute centered on a risky method of extraction. California’s governor has sued oil companies throughout his career, but he now talks of tossing cumbersome regulations to revive the economy.”

  12. Anonymous

    Didnt see a mention of this anywhere. Capps? Newspress? Mayor? Looks like people have forgotten.

  13. While the US is still importing close to half its petroleum, it is awash in gasoline, EXporting 430,000 barrels a day (as of Sept 2011) to other countries. We began exporting gasoline in 2008, because of excess refining capacity. for information on what drives prices, drilling, and current status, google the : US Energy Information Administration website. Politicians ALL tell a version of the truth that is convenient for their re-elections, even Gov. Brown. Check it out.

  14. pedronava

    Re: No Mention of the Anniversary-Many of the people/groups who would normally be trumpeting the anniversary so as to bring attention to the issue have been compromised by their support for the PXP offshore oil drilling project. It’s hard to take the “oppose” position if you have taken $$ from the oil company to be their cheerleader for new offshore oil drilling off our coast-looks kinda funny, if you know what I mean.