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Seeping Crude Oil

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California's Oil Soaked Birds An

Ominous Flag

By James Donahue

A news story told of more than 140 birds covered in oil that had been recovered along the Santa Barbara coast in California during January and February, 2012. Jay Holcomb, director emeritus of the International Bird Rescue center in Los Angeles said he thought the oil was “seeping” from the ocean floor.

While it has been happening regularly, Holcomb said the number of recovered birds by local citizens was alarmingly high this year.

The so-called specialists are explaining that the offshore Santa Barbara area has “the second largest marine oil seeps in the world.” They say an estimated 10,000 gallons of crude oil rise up from an estimated 1,200 fissures about every 24 hours.

(There is nothing to see here folks. Move along. There might be something more interesting going on at the local football stadium.)

That so-called seepage may be something much more ominous than those marine specialists are revealing. It is well known in the oil industry that there are millions of acres of oil deposits along the southern California coast that were mapped in the 1980s when former Interior Secretary James Watt and Energy Secretary Donald Hodel pushed for exploration in the area.

Now with California struggling against deficit spending and severe cuts in education, social services and rising unemployment, the lure of potential new money from offshore oil wells is tempting politicians and investors alike. The Obama administration is bending to the pressure. The proposal is on the table to open vast areas of both the Atlantic and Pacific coastline, including the Gulf of Mexico, to oil and natural gas drilling. Under the plan, the Pacific coast, from Mexico to the Canadian border, may be fair game.

To California natives, the ugly sight of drilling platforms just off the scenic California coast from Santa Barbara south to Oceanside and on to Los Angeles, remains fixed in their memory from the late 1960s. Numerous exploratory wells were drilled, but then capped after the great Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969. That disaster, recorded as the worse oil well disaster in US history at the time, spewed an estimated 100,000 barrels of raw crude from a blown well. The oil came ashore from Pismo Beach south to the Mexican border, with the worst of it at Santa Barbara.

The Santa Barbara disaster was so alarming, it shut the door to further off-shore oil exploration for many years.

Slowly the guards were lowered. And then the demand for crude oil and natural gas increased, and the potential profits were so tempting, that well drilling was permitted in the Gulf of Mexico. So we suffered the Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010. More recently a Total drilling platform in the North Sea was evacuated on March 25 because of a potentially explosive gas leak.

Have we learned anything about the ecological damage these deep-sea exploratory wells generate? Are we willing to sacrifice the scenic beauty of our ocean shorelines with rows of ugly drilling platforms in our quest for even more carbon fuels when we know these fuels are drastically changing our climate and polluting the very air we breathe?

Is the quest for wealth so important that we risk everything to get it?

Some say the Deepwater Horizon well head still is “seeping” a lot of crude in the Gulf of Mexico. Oil is leaking from several other well sites in the Gulf as well. Could we not assume that the so-called “capped” wells off Santa Barbara also are leaking crude? Perhaps it isn’t natural seepage that is covering the water birds with oil after all.