Offshore Oil Drilling – FAQs

What is Heal the Bay’s position on offshore drilling?

We don’t support new offshore oil drilling projects and all existing offshore drilling projects must comply with existing state and federal codes and regulations.

How is Heal the Bay responding to BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico?

As a regional environmental group, Heal the Bay is very concerned about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and its long–term effects on Gulf ecosystems. We support the work being done by rescue groups on the ground there, like International Bird Rescue Research Center and the National Wildlife Federation, to clean up the oil spill and help wildlife. We are also working with partner groups to lobby federal representatives, encouraging them to strengthen regulatory overview to prevent any future oil spill disasters. We urge the federal government to shift environmental review of oil rigs from the historically lax Mineral Management Service to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Is a BP type oil spill disaster possible on the rigs in California?

It’s hard to know the risk, but the rigs off our coast are a threat. Wet’ve had big spills in the past. For example, the Santa Barbara spill in 1969 released about 200,000 gallons of crude oil, impacting Santa Barbara’s coastline, as well as the offshore Channel Islands. This could happen again, especially if existing rigs are not up–to–date with state and federal codes and regulations. We don’t have any rigs in the Santa Monica Bay, but depending on how large the spill is, the impacts can be wide–ranging. There are 27 different offshore platforms off the coast of California, with the closest located off the Santa Barbara and Seal Beach coasts. And, with the Chevron refinery near LAX, oil tankers regularly come into the Santa Monica Bay and caused a spill in the Bay in 1991.

What habitats would be threatened by a spill from the Santa Barbara rigs?

Many different ocean habitats could suffer from an oil spill. Those of particular concern are nursery habitats like wetlands (e.g. Carpenteria Salt Marsh, Mugu Lagoon, Ballona Wetlands, Bolsa Chica, etc), kelp forests, the rocky intertidal and rocky reefs. An oil spill in Southern California would also pose great threats to seal and seabird nurseries on the Channel Islands.

What are the impacts of oil spills on birds and other animals?

When birds and some marine mammals (like sea otters) are coated with oil, their feathers and fur lose the ability to insulate the animal from the cold water. Fur and feathers keep animals warm by trapping little pockets of air close to the body, which their body warms. These warm air pockets act as a buffer between the animal and the cold seawater. Oil and other chemicals can make the formation of the air pockets impossible, exposing seabirds and sea otters to the cold water, which can cause the animals to become hypothermic. Birds can become so heavy with oily coating that they can no longer fly or swim properly. Additionally, when marine mammals become coated with oil, they try to groom themselves to remove the oil, and can ingest toxic amounts in attempting to lick themselves clean. These are only the immediate impacts of oil in the environment.

What are the long-term ecological effects?

The long term effects of oil in the environment are also of concern. Oil can persist in sediments and pose long–term exposure to some species. Organisms that do not perish are often contaminated with the oil and other toxic chemicals attracted to the oil. When they are ingested by other animals, the chemicals move throughout the food chain, and can influence other species. The impacts on fisheries can be devastating for years. Long after the oil is no longer visible in an area, its impact can still be felt.

Are the oil dispersants more toxic then the oil?

Methods for cleaning up oil spills pose some tough choices, and prevention is the best approach to keep from harming the marine environment. It’s hard to compare these two pollutants. But, chemical dispersants also threaten marine life and don’t actually stop the amount of oil that enters the environment. Dispersants basically break up the oil into small bits that associate with sea water, so filter feeders (like oysters and clams), fish eggs and larvae and other animals still encounter the oil. Some studies (including a 2005 study by the National Academy of Sciences) have found that the use of dispersants causes some marine life to have a higher accumulation of oil–derived toxins (PAHs — polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) in their bodies. Prevention, by discontinuing offshore oil drilling, is the best way to avoid any impacts from oil spills and dispersants.

What is the source of the tar that sometimes appears on Santa Monica Bay beaches? Is that from offshore drilling?

Natural oil seeps are present in the Santa Monica Bay off the coast of Redondo Beach and Manhattan Beach. They are a natural geological occurrence and are not caused by any human activity. On average, about 10 barrels (420 gallons) of oil from the seeps reach the sea surface daily in Santa Monica Bay. Surface oil generally drifts northward, towards the shore, reaching the beaches from Redondo Beach to Malibu in a few days. Tar on Santa Monica Bay beaches also comes from natural seeps in the Santa Barbara Channel. Geologic activity, like earthquakes, can affect the flow of natural oil seeps.