The 2015 Refugio Oil Spill dumped nearly 143,000 gallons of oil into the Pacific Ocean. Refugio Oil Spill in Santa Barbara | Creative Commons

As the federal government proposes selling land off the California Central Coast to oil drilling companies, San Luis Obispo joins a coalition of coastal cities and state senators in opposition.

In May 2017, the city signed a letter opposing offshore drilling and prohibiting the renewal of onshore leases in city boundaries. Two bills have been introduced in the state senate and assembly, but without jurisdiction over federal waters, there may be little the local and state governments can do to oppose the proposition.

In October 2017, San Luis Obispo signed a unanimous resolution to support a ban on drilling and fracking along the coast, ending existing oil and gas leases and instituting a plan for renewable energy.

San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon penned an editorial four days after Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke published his proposal. She said the administration would destroy the coast with offshore drilling and that a spill would be imminent if the water is leased.

“This is a call to action for every person on the coast and beyond. It is up to [us] to make it equally clear that we are all-in on defending and conserving what makes this part of the world so special,” Harmon wrote.

Harmon also mentioned the 1969 Santa Barbara spill, a disaster that caused many to join environmental movements, as a moving force for her to oppose offshore drilling. The spill also jumpstarted the creation of marine sanctuaries, according to Gregory Brown, head of the natural resources management and environmental sciences department.

During the 1969 spill, which was one of the largest in the nation’’s history, approximately 3 million gallons of oil spilled into the ocean, killing approximately 3,500 sea birds and hurt ing tourism for several seasons. The spill is often described as the birth of the modern ecology movement.

Two state bills planned to be sponsored by Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) and by Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance) would prevent the building of wharves, pipelines, piers and other infrastructure needed for offshore drilling. A similar bill was carried last year, but died in committee.

“California has long sought to protect its stunning coasts and breathtaking oceans from the risks inherent with offshore drilling,” Jackson said in Sacramento last year.

If the bill passes, it may prevent oil companies from attempting to drill.

Brown said the plots off the coast aren’t likely to be leased. He said because California is so united against offshore drilling after the Santa Barbara spill, the federal government would not want to force the practice onto them. He compared California’s situation to Florida, where leasing was also considered, but where the secretary of the interior exempted them days after announcing his proposal because the state opposed drilling.

“It’s much more of a political decision than a technical decision,” Brown said.

The Secretary of the Interior’s proposal is the first major step taken by a government body to promote offshore drilling since the executive order signed in May of last year that made leases a possibility.

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