Baykeeper Update

Santa Barbara Oil Spill Shows Need for Stronger Protections

The May 19 spill of 21,000 gallons of oil into the Santa Barbara Channel shows how vulnerable California waters are, and how much San Francisco Bay needs strong protection from oil spills.

Our sister organization, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, is out on the water investigating the extent and impacts of the oil spill. “We will also monitor the containment efforts, keep the public updated, provide any assistance we can with the clean-up, and ultimately ensure that the responsible party cleans up the oil that has marred our precious beaches, ocean and marine life,” said Kira Redmond, Channelkeeper’s Executive Director.

Oil spill response and cleanup have improved statewide in recent years, as a result of Baykeeper’s advocacy following the disastrous Cosco Busan spill of 53,000 gallons of oily fuel into San Francisco Bay in 2007. The oil stained shorelines and beaches, contaminated sensitive wildlife habitat, and killed thousands of birds.

Following the spill, Baykeeper participated in the Coast Guard’s official review of the incident, helping craft nearly 200 recommendations for improving oil spill response, which has helped improve oil spill planning in California and across the nation. Baykeeper then helped create a package of state legislation, signed into law in 2008, to improve oil spill preparedness and response at the state and local level.

Since then, Baykeeper has been a tireless advocate for better protection of the Bay from oil spills. We serve as the nonprofit representative with regional, statewide, and federal agencies with jurisdiction over preventing oil spill pollution of the Bay and responding when an oil spill occurs.

The ecological tragedy Santa Barbara spill raises Baykeeper’s concerns about a spill in the Bay, especially in light of the oil industry’s plan to increase shipments of Canadian tar sands into the Bay Area.  An increase in additional pipelines and tanker traffic in the area raises the risk of spills of this heavy, dirty oil into San Francisco Bay.

Tar sands oil is one of the heaviest and dirtiest types of oils. If spilled from a ship, the substance would spread over the bottom of the Bay and likely smother every animal and plant living on the Bay floor. Wildlife that feed on bottom-dwelling creatures could also be harmed. Government agencies are not ready to respond to or clean up a spill of this type of heavy oil, and therefore Baykeeper is advocating against it being shipped here.

Baykeeper has offered assistance to Santa Barbara Channelkeeper staff with response to the oil spill in the Channel as needed, and we will continue to advocate for strong oil spill protections for San Francisco Bay and all California waters.