Friday, March 9, 2012

How the California coast is blighted by oil drilling

To listen to environmentalists, you would think that offshore drilling causes enormous environmental damage. It is so bad, enviromentalists say, that it should be prohibited even if it 200 miles out to sea. It pollutes the air, fouls the water, and kills all wildlife for miles. It must be banned off America's coastline, except for the National Sacrifice Zone known as the Gulf Coast.

You might be forgiven for thinking that a beach a mere five miles from an offshore oilfield would be an environmental ruin that nobody in their right mind would want to visit. You might be forgiven for thinking that such a beach could not possibly exist in the enviro-republic of California.

You would be wrong.

A few years ago I was looking for campsites and drove into Refugio State Beach on the California coast. When I arrived it was foggy, and I quickly noticed a few unusual looking bumps on the horizon. I knew I was looking at one of Southern California's offshore oilfields. As I walked along the beach I looked for signs of tar or pollution in the water.  The beach was littered with seaweed and driftwood, but there was no sign of oil. The water looked clean, and the waves were calm and safe. After a while the fog started to lift, and I snapped this picture.

What about those hideous eyesores otherwise known as offshore platforms? It turns out that even though the platforms were only five miles away, they made little impression on the scenic beauty of the spot. I had to use the zoom on my camera to get a decent picture of the platforms, so the only picture I have of them greatly exaggerates the impact they have on the view.

These platforms are part of the Hondo oilfield, which is one of the largest offshore fields on the Californian coast. Those little bumps on the horizon have produced oil worth over $20 billion at today's prices. I think it is debateable if oil development should be allowed this close to the coast or this close to the major urban areas of Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. A Deepwater Horizon style spill could oil the beaches of Malibu and Santa Monica, and the national media would go into hysterics. However, spills are very rare, and as long as nothing goes wrong, the impact of the oil industry on Refugio Beach seems modest. The region of the coast which the oil industry would like to develop in future is more remote and further offshore, and  I see no good reason to oppose it.

The main issue with the place is too few campsites and too many RVs.

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