Fox 11 Archives: Black Gold Spills On Our Coast

(FOX 11) Our reporting shows the recent oil spill in Santa Barbara County has triggered anguish and bitter memories for those who witnessed the big 1969 offshore disaster that soaked the beaches with crude and killed more than 3,500 birds and an unknown number of marine mammals.

RELATED | Thousands Of Gallons Of Oil Sopped Up From California Coast

Perhaps it's too early to draw comparisons between the two events, but I'll do it anyway. So far, there appear to be several obvious differences. For one thing, the current mess originated on land, and involved a pipeline malfunction. I'll add here that the pipeline is operated by a Texas-based company that reportedly has a less than stellar environmental record. As I write this, the spill is estimated to involve at least 100,000 gallons of crude. The '69 disaster, on the other hand, involved nearly three million gallons that gushed from a Union Oil oil platform six miles offshore. Unocal, by the way, was a local company. Can't blame that one on Texans.

In addition to the aforementioned toll on marine life, the 1969 spill cost Santa Barbara's commercial fishing and tourism businesses millions of dollars. We don't know the ultimate toll this week's spill will exact on wildlife, or what damage it will inflict on the environment and recreational areas, or what the dollar losses will amount to. So while it's too early to fully compare the two events, presumably this new spill, being much smaller, won't be nearly as disastrous as the first one. Tell that to the people who live in the area, or the vacationers who can't use the beaches.

We've covered a number of local oil spills, from inland pipeline leaks to underwater blowouts and tanker breaches along the Southern California coast. In 1990 one ship, the American Trader, ran over its anchor off Huntington Beach, puncturing its hull and spilling more than 400 thousand gallons of crude oil. The state's Department of Fish and Wildlife estimates that 3,400 seabirds were killed as a result. In 1991 a Santa Paula pipeline leaked 74 thousand gallons of oil into the Santa Clara River, killing 250 birds and other animals. That same year, an oil tanker a mile off El Segundo scraped an undersea pipeline, releasing more than 27 thousand gallons of jet and diesel fuel that floated as far north as Topanga. And in 1997 there was another Santa Barbara oil platform spill. Some 20 thousand gallons of crude blanketed 17 miles of coastline. There have been other incidents, mostly involving smaller spills. Accidents happen. Uh-huh.

California hasn't allowed new offshore drilling rigs in its coastal waters since that big 1969 spill. Over the years the state's congressional delegations have beaten back efforts to drill near our shores. Nevertheless, spills continue to occur, and despite electric cars, solar panels, windmills and the hot air of politicians oil remains the dominant energy source here and everywhere else in the world. So pray for the birds – and for us.

I've included a montage of clips of the 1969 Santa Barbara spill, the Huntington Beach spill, the Santa Paula pipeline leak and some other spills that tarred the beaches in the Santa Monica Bay.   

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