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offshore drilling

Oil rig off the coast of Santa Barbara. Photo by Mike Baird


The Otter Project works actively to prevent expansion of offshore oil drilling along the coast of California. As sea otters move further south, they are increasingly at risk from existing offshore oil drilling operations, pollution, and potential spills.

In 1969, a blowout from a Union Oil rig off the coast of Summerland, just south of Santa Barbara, spewed approximately 10,000 barrels of oil (420,000 gallons) into the Pacific (Coast Guard estimate, cited by the County of Santa Barbara Planning & Development, Energy Division). The spill was devastating to local wildlife and the community who watched as their once pristine coastline was covered in oil. The spill, which is often credited with launching the contemporary American environmental movement, heralded a long history of public opposition to offshore oil drilling in California.

Until recently, federal and state policy more or less reflected this public opposition to offshore drilling, with Congressional and Presidential moratoriums on additional leasing of offshore plots for drilling. In the waning days of the oil friendly Bush Administration, President Bush lifted the executive and legislative moratoria on offshore oil and gas leasing. Currently, no Outer Continental Shelf areas are affected by an annual (Congressional) moratoria. By Presidential authority, all marine sanctuaries have been withdrawn from future oil and gas leasing activities.

In 2006, the governors of California, Oregon, and Washington agreed to oppose any new oil and gas leasing, development, and production in ocean waters off the Pacific Coast by signing the West Coast Governors’ Agreement on Ocean Health. In the Proposed Outer Continental Shelf Oil & Gas Leasing Program 2012-2017, potential oil and gas leasing areas off the Pacific coast are not included specifically to accommodate the recommendations of governors of the Pacific coastal states and of state and local agencies.

Offshore oil drilling carries undue risk to otters, the marine ecosystem, is against the public’s will, and new leases should not be authorized. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has identified oil spills as a primary threat to sea otters, thus The Otter Project strongly opposes any offshore oil drilling in the current and historic sea otter range.


Environmental Risks of Offshore Drilling

In addition to being harmful to otters and many other marine species, offshore oil drilling causes a whole host of environmental problems and has the inherent potential for a large scale environmental disaster.

Exploring for oil often involves acoustic seismic surveys, which can disrupt communication and migration patterns of marine mammals, such as whales and dolphin, and possibly result in the death of fish species. The actual drilling requires dredging of the ocean floor displacing huge amounts of sediment resulting in the release of toxic industrial waste into the water–including heavy metals, arsenic and radioactive materials.

Proponents of offshore oil and gas drilling argue that advances in technology allow for safer and cleaner industrial activity. Recent events in the Gulf of Mexico have shown us that this is not always the case. On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon, a drilling rig recognized by the Minerals Management Service as an industry model for safety, experienced a “blowout” resulting in a violent explosion causing the lose of human and marine life, destruction of the rig, and consequentially the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. History of approximately 4.9 million barrels. No amount of technology can change the fact that accidents due to natural disasters, human error, or technological failure do happen. And when they happen in the ocean, there’s a lot at stake.