All of the photos in this series were made on April 8, 2015 about a month-and-a-half before the Santa Barbara Oil Spill near Refugio State Beach. Initially the project was a collaboration with the Center for Biological Diversity and Ecoflight. We flew in a little two-seater Cessna (pictured below) to produce a series of aerial images of the offshore oil and gas rigs along the Southern California coast. None of us could have known that little more than a month later one of the pipelines carrying oil drilled at these rigs would burst, spilling more than 100,000 gallons of heavy crude oil onto coastal lands and into the ocean. An uncountable number of sea creatures have died and the ocean has been rendered toxic for many coastal communities.
In the aftermath of this tragedy a few interesting facts have come to light. The company responsible for the pipeline that burst, Plains All-American Pipeline, has a despicable safety record. Since 2006, they have had 175 “incidents” in the US, most of which were oil spills. In addition, the pipe that burst was 28 years old, was badly corroded, and was not fitted with an emergency shut-off valve. Whether an oversight by Plains or a way to save money, the true costs of the oil spill and clean-up have been externalized onto the people, wildlife, and ecosystems of Southern California.
And while most of the public dialogue in the aftermath of the spill has focused on how to legislate for better inspections and mandate ‘safety’ features such as shut-off valves, this line of conversation seems to miss the more obvious points and problems. Let me be clear: better safety features and a stronger regulatory system are important and necessary – especially because transitioning off of fossil fuels will likely be a gradual and a long-term process, requiring massive infrastructure changes. But …
First and most obviously is how do we start to build a society that no longer uses fossil fuels? The world’s scientific community has warned that in order to avoid climate destabilization and potentially catastrophic global warming, as much as two-thirds to four-fifths of all remaining fossil fuel reserves on the planet will have to be left in the ground, never to be burned. Larry Elliot recently wrote an intriguing piece on this topic, you can read it here.
Second, is that even with decent safety standards and regulations in place, fossil fuel extraction is a risky endeavor, especially when carried out in the ocean. (There are currently more than 7,000 miles of oil pipelines and dozens of oil and gas extraction operations on the California coast.) And, when accidents happen, which they inevitably will, local ecosystems including human communities and economies always suffer. During just the last 15 years in the US, there have been thousands of oil spills, and the average number of significant spills per year has increased dramatically. The 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico spewed nearly 210 million gallons of oil into the water. A recent academic study has shown that five years later, dolphins and other marine life are still dying in the Gulf as a result of that spill. The point, of course, is that oil spills happen all the time and the deleterious effects are not easily remedied and can last for many, many years. We still don’t know the full impact of the recent spill in Santa Barbara, but what we do know is that the local community, wildlife and environment will suffer its impacts for years to come.
Here’s what the rocker Flea of The Red Hot Chili Peppers had to say about it.
If you’d like to use any of the images here for publication, send me an email and I’ll get you the appropriate resolution JPGs.
The following jargon is mainly for the search engine robots. Read on, if you like. Drew is an Oakland Freelance Photographer and a San Francisco Freelance Photographer and a Bay area Freelance Photographer, a bay area conservation photographer, an Oakland wedding photojournalist and a San Francisco wedding photojournalist and a bay area event photographer and a Berkeley photographer; while he is based in the Bay area, Drew regularly photographs for clients throughout all of California, including Los Angeles, Lake Tahoe, San Jose, Marin County, Santa Cruz, Eureka, Santa Rosa, Mendocino, Monterey, Sacramento, Santa Barbra, and Napa, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Nevada, all across the USA and everywhere on Earth. He specializes in creative storytelling and artistic photojournalism, environmental photojournalism, conservation photography, environmental justice photography, and stories about human-earth relationships including urban farming, agriculture, water use, climate change, ocean issues, energy issues, pollution, and natural resource economics. He also specializes in editorial photography and lifestyle photography, portraits and headshots, corporate event photography, non-profit event photography, and branding photography for corporations, non-profits, and small businesses. You can view more of his photojournalism, editorial, and lifestyle work here and more of his documentary style wedding work here. The photos in this post are connected to the Refugio Beach Oil Spill and the Santa Barbara Oil Spill and the California Oil Spill.