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Saturday, February 23 , 2019, 10:02 pm | Fair 36º


Capps, Local Experts Discuss Future of Offshore Drilling in Wake of Gulf Oil Spill

The Santa Barbara forum focuses on health effects, government regulation and protecting resources

Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, attending a forum Tuesday night in the Faulkner Gallery of the Santa Barbara Public Library, celebrated approval last week by the House of Representatives of the Consolidated Land, Energy and Aquatic Resources Act, which she co-authored in the aftermath of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Capps and a panel of local environmental experts gathered Tuesday to discuss the oil spill and the future of offshore drilling in Santa Barbara County.

“By now we know the (1969) Santa Barbara oil spill pales in compassion to what is happening in the gulf,” Capps said. “Oil companies were allowed to cut corners on spill prevention. We need to change the way we manage our resources.”

She said the U.S. Senate has a full agenda next week with the confirmation of Elena Kagan for the U.S. Supreme Court, so a vote will not be held on the CLEAR Act until September.

About 150 people packed into the Faulkner Gallery for the discussion, hosted by the Citizens Planning Association and the Environmental Defense Center.

Capps called on Congress and President Barack Obama to appoint an oil spill health czar to monitor and demand that BP pay for any long-term health problems of those cleaning up oil in the gulf.

“I am very concerned about the long-term effects of their exposure,” Capps said. “That is something that the government didn’t do after the Exxon-Valdez, and frankly not after 9/11.”

Ira Leifer, a researcher with UCSB’s Marine Science Institute, talked about his work trying to measure how much crude was seeping out into the gulf, and coordinating with NASA to photograph the pristine coastline from Florida to Texas before the oil came ashore.

Leifer and other scientists proceeded without official government approval and had NASA’s high-altitude planes collect enough data in the course of three weeks that normally would have taken a year.

“When we were leaving, other government agencies were just setting up shop,” he said. “If we had waited, it would have never happened.”

Leifer said a huge misconception reported in the media recently has been that the bacteria in the ocean have been dissolving the oil spill.

“If someone is saying that, just assume that they are underpaid or BP is paying them,” he said. “It was not the capping of the well that made it go away. It was [Hurricane] Alex.”

The fast currents that sweep around Florida and up the East Coast have pockets that churn the water to help dissipate the oil into the ecosystem. It’s not the oil-coated brown pelicans that Leifer worries about as much as the plankton and zooplankton at the bottom of the food chain that could cause a ripple effect, he said.

Linda Krop, chief counsel for the Environmental Defense Center, summed up the panel’s discussion by talking about Santa Barbara County’s internal debate over offshore drilling.

She highlighted the center’s lawsuit victory over the federal government’s decision to lease federal land offshore near the San Luis Obispo County line.

Santa Barbara has 20 permanent rigs offshore that are in much shallower water than the Deepwater Horizon, a floating platform drilling 5,000 feet down, said Doug Anthony, deputy director for Santa Barbara County’s Energy Division who provided an overview of local offshore drilling.

Anthony said the rigs have been operated since the 1960s and 1980s, so the pressure being handled is less than that on the Deepwater Horizon, and operators are more familiar with them.

Krop said an important legislative change that the public needs to support is the West Coast Ocean Protection Act being pushed by all U.S. senators from California, Oregon and Washington. The legislation would prohibit any new leasing in federal waters off the West Coast.

Capps and Krop called for moving toward renewable energy to encourage green businesses, to break insecure dependence on foreign oil, and to protect the coastline.

“We can do it,” Krop said. “The technology is there. We just need the political will.”

Noozhawk intern Daniel Langhorne will be a junior at Chapman University in the fall. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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