Tuesday, February 9 , 2016, 7:43 pm | Fair 67º

Bruce Allen: Offshore Oil Production Saves Local Wildlife

Natural oil seeps take toll on birds. Is that any way to protect our environment?

By Bruce Allen |

Just offshore Santa Barbara lie the world’s second-largest natural oil and gas seeps, and offshore oil production has been drying up these seeps for more than 50 years. Local residents have seen their beaches slowly becoming cleansed of seep oil.

Bruce Allen
Bruce Allen

The reduction in natural seepage pollution as a result of offshore oil drilling has been established by long-term UCSB studies. What many residents don’t realize is local natural oil seepage kills wildlife. Far more birds have died from these seeps than from all California offshore oil spills combined over the last 50 years.

Just last month, the Long Beach-based International Bird Rescue Research Center reported, “Natural Seep Oil Prompts Bird Rescue in California” with more than 50 birds oiled in January. In March 2011, the IBRRC headline was, “Natural Seep Oiled Birds Continue to Flood IBRRC.” Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network routinely sees dead seep-oiled birds. A local 2005 natural oil seepage event killed more birds than the 1969 oil spill in the Santa Barbara Channel.

Is offshore oil opposition really because we need to “protect the coastline”?

Santa Barbara offshore oil production has been cleaning up our beaches for decades. If offshore oil production would have stopped after the 1969 spill, Santa Barbara beaches would have far more seep oil and more birds dying from seepage pollution. Offshore oil production has saved thousands of birds from premature seep oil-coated deaths. Local wildlife will have fewer seep oil deaths for thousands of years into the future because of offshore production.

In the span of Santa Barbara history, any short-term oil spill is lost in time compared to the permanent reductions in natural oil seepage. Claims that we need to stop offshore production to “protect the coastline” actually would result in maintaining more seep-oiled beaches and more unnecessary bird deaths. Who are the real environmentalists?

If you doubt California bird populations die in large numbers from natural seep oiling, just Google the news stories. The best thing that ever happened to Santa Barbara and California beaches is local offshore oil production. Our seep oil even reaches Northern California beaches with the winter currents and kills wildlife as far north as Monterey.

Most of the known Santa Barbara County offshore oil reserves still off-limits are overlain by active natural seeps. UCSB geology professor emeritus James Boles stated publicly that the largest offshore seeps remain off-limits and that producing them would reduce further seepage pollution. One of the largest sources of air pollution in Santa Barbara County is natural offshore gas seepage. Reducing these seeps would result in permanent improvements in air quality.

Protecting the local environment should be about saving wildlife and improving air and water quality. It seems that some people believe it’s more important to oppose offshore oil as a symbolic gesture than to admit offshore oil production has reduced oil seepage pollution and saved the lives of countless birds.

Even the effects of the 1969 spill disappeared within months. A 1971 UCSB biological sciences study concluded local fisheries returned to normal within four months of the spill. Compare that to having cleaner beaches, cleaner air quality and fewer premature bird deaths for thousands of years.

Our tourism has only benefited from offshore oil production. When I played on Santa Barbara beaches in the 1960s, I always had seep oil on my feet. Now our beaches are cleaner. Tourists like beaches with less seep oil. Scaring people about the potential of another oil spill when the effects disappear quickly isn’t good public policy.

Expanded offshore production could generate more than $400 million per year in new Santa Barbara County royalty revenues, give us the best-funded schools in the country, and make the county pension system solvent. Instead, local politicians just want to raise your taxes.

— Bruce Allen is co-founder of SOS California, a Santa Barbara-based nonprofit organization devoted to public education on offshore oil and gas, environmental and renewable energy issues. He is the author of Reaching the Solar Tipping Point.

» on 03.09.12 @ 07:44 PM

yeah right… next thing you’ll be telling me is Pat Robertson supports making Marijuana legal!  :)

» on 03.10.12 @ 11:08 AM

Let me see if I understand your reasoning. You say that the accumulated slow seeps add up to more bird deaths over time that the occasional blowout?

That’s stupid reasoning. Losing 5% each year over 20 years is not the same as losing 100% in one week, and it is not worse than losing 30% in one week. The bird populations have adapted to slow seeps.

If the current level of production is slowing natural seeps so well, then maybe it is correct level. No need to tempt fate and repeat 1969, or worse.

» on 03.10.12 @ 04:20 PM

As a Santa Barbara native I must dipute at least one assertion in this article. “Even the effects of the 1969 spill disappeared in a few months”.  As an avid beach person, who experienced it first hand, there was residue from the spill for years after. Allen’s statement that effects lasted only a few months is absolutely untrue.

» on 03.10.12 @ 09:01 PM

Thank you, Mr. Allen for your balanced approach to environmental protection!

Not to diminish sadness of seeing oiled birds, but the author’s reasoning may not seem so stupid if you take the time to look at the big picture and not make a knee-jerk reaction.  Actual numbers killed is much more significant that per cent killed in a small area because birds will repopulate an area very quickly, either by seasonal migration or in search of food.

As an SB native and beach lover, I have seen a gratifying decline in tar on Goleta and I.V. beaches. In the 60’s I had to stop to scrape the tar off my shoes every few miles when running on the beaches from Goleta to Ellwood… thankfully not so today.

Several years ago, Platform Holly had to quit pumping for a while and there was a noticeable increase in oil on the water and the beaches.

The major effects of the ‘69 oil spill did disappear very quickly. Noticeable tar spots on boulders did remain for quite some time. Actually that brings up another point…. I am sure that the steam cleaning of rocks to remove the evidence killed many thousands of times more organisms than the oil itself.

» on 03.11.12 @ 04:28 AM

Great article. Bruce is right—some ideologues will always oppose oil drilling, no wonder what the facts are. I myself remember going to the beach as a kid in the early 80s, and always having to clean my feet of tar with oil and a knife afterwards. Of course, my parents blamed it on the 1969 oil spill.
Who said ignorance is worse than poverty?

» on 03.12.12 @ 01:34 AM

I have been using SB beaches since the early 70’s, and never needed a knife to clean my feet, nor did running shoes need scraping as described. I’d say the last two posters are exaggerating or being dishonest.

If the current level of development is reducing the oilon beaches, the question is Why increase it?

The risks are huge, and well documented. The editorial seems to want us to accelerate new development, which is not warranted by the argument.

» on 03.12.12 @ 10:37 PM

Rambo, if you never had to scrape tar off your feet then you were never on the beach. Ok, maybe you went to the beach and sat in your car in the parking lot. There are numerous studies that show pumping oil out of these local formations does reduce the natural seeps, which if you read history were far worse at the beginning of the 20th century, before local oil development went into high gear. The risks today are far less than they were in the late sixties.

» on 03.13.12 @ 12:42 AM

Mr Rambler:
  You must not have read my comment carefully….maybe that is why you react so strongly to reasoning based on observations. I mentioned the tar on the Goleta to Ellwood beaches. I agree that usually the tar on the SB beaches was minimal, but there was always some, and still is.

» on 03.13.12 @ 03:02 AM

no one here has taken the time to consider that although drilling for this oil may reduce seepage related injuries to wildlife and make your morning jog more convenient, it will be burned and create a larger problem for the worlds ecosystems.  We are entering a period of time where atmosperic co2 levels are increasing at a rate, and to a level, not seen in at least 300 million years and you guys are worried about tar on your shoes?

» on 03.13.12 @ 12:59 PM

Lets see, one scientist says the levels of CO2 are the highest in 2 million years, then another in 5 million, then as time goes on with no further research Al Gore says it’s the highest in 20 million years and now you say 300 million. Hmmmm, me thinks the only thing increasing exponentially is the AGW hyperbole.

300 million years ago in the middle to late carboniferous period the atmospheric CO2 levels had dropped to about 350 ppm (they are at 370 ppm now) but the average during the Jurassic period was about 1800 ppm almost 5 times the current levels. Before the Carboniferous period the CO2 levels were far higher.

The moral of the story is that our planet has a history of being warmer and far richer in atmospheric CO2. Stop worrying and read more.

» on 03.13.12 @ 03:22 PM

Wow! Another misinterpretation of comment and another myopic conclusion.

There was no mention in my comment about being “worried” about tar on shoes. It was merely a statement of contrast between then and now.  No way to demonstrate the cause of improvement without stopping the pumping or removing the hood that was placed over some of the largest seeps.

Whether we like it or not, the seeps are going to continue until the oil is gone. Would you rather have the carbon go into the atmosphere “naturally” as unburned hydrocarbons or as carbon dioxide? That is the real choice in this situation.

» on 03.13.12 @ 10:38 PM

Good one Bruce.  Lefties like Rambler and the man-made global warming disciples will never admit there are environmental benefits to drilling.  Its against their religion.

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