Southern California Oil Spill

4 05 2010

Look familiar? Nowhere Near Louisiana

Felt a little depressed listening to the news from the Gulf of Mexico over the last couple weeks?

You’re not the only one.

Whether you were proclaiming “Drill Baby Drill” or “Yes We Can” in Fall 2008, you have to feel the sadness of the devastation in the Gulf; unless you are living in denial.  We don’t know yet whether the impacts will be short term, long term or permanent, but there will be impacts.

We’ll soon be hearing the extremes–everything from “the fisheries have been eliminated for good” to “the news media is exaggerating the situation again–there was no oil spilled.”  The real picture is likely somewhere in between.  Fish populations will at least be disrupted.  The atmosphere will have more volatile chemicals than if the spill hadn’t happened.  The shorelines will have tar on them for a long time.  Birds and mammals will be threatened, at least for a time.

It’s sort of like spilling a 55-gallon drum of heavy crude in your kitchen.  It can be cleaned up, but the cleanup will be expensive and take a long time.  Somebody may die, but will at least get sick for a time.  The kitchen will probably never be the same.  And, you are riding on a knife edge while it’s there, especially if someone lights a match.

I’m old enough to remember walking along the beach at Newport after the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill.  Yes, that’s right, Santa Barbara.  (  That was only 3 million gallons, but the impacts were felt up and down the coast from San Francisco to Baja for years afterward.  We were still picking the tar out from between our toes right up through the 70’s.   We thought we learned our lesson.  I suppose that is why drilling was stopped along the California coast and it hasn’t been brought back yet.

As an engineer, I marvel at how sophisticated deep ocean drilling is.  The oil industry in the Gulf has a stellar history with very few “incidents.”  The problem is that it only takes one spill to have a cataclysmic impact on the environment and the coastal economy of an entire region.

I believe that at this point in history we still need an energy portfolio that includes oil.  But, we need to drill any new wells from land and minimize our footprint for those wells.  Modern drilling allows several wells to be drilled at a slant from a single drill site.  We need to wean ourselves from our dependence on oil.  Just because it is relatively cheap and easy doesn’t make it right in the long term.  Let’s continue what we started as we build up our renewables,  find ways to cut back our energy consumption, and develop new energy technologies.

Let’s avoid bringing ocean drilling back to our Southern California coastline.  Could you imagine what another Southern California oil spill would be like?

I don’t mean to rant or bring you down.  I just wanted to try to get into words what I have been feeling.

No suicide watch here.  Just need a heavy dose of the Colbert Report, or maybe Rush.  [They’re not real people — are they?]