Seeps Impact the Environment

How Seeps Impact Santa Barbara

Huge, natural seeps have been spewing oil and gas into the Santa BarbaraChannel for centuries. According to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and other sources, the resulting tar was used by the Chumash and other native populations for waterproofing baskets and pitchers, and for caulking small boats. Early California pioneers (circa 1850) used the oil from natural seeps to grease their wagon wheels. Settlers and ranchers, especially in the Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, and Orange County areas, used seep oil for lubricating farm machinery, for tarring roofs, and for illumination.

Tar "whips" on the ocean floor (left) break off and float to the surface

Tar “whips” on the ocean floor (left) break off and float to the surface

Scientists have been studying the effects of the intense offshore oil and gas seepage in the Santa Barbara Channel since the 1940s. Studies have shown that seeps are a major source of pollution in Santa Barbara County. Click here to see striking photographs taken during Nasa and UCSB/State Lands Commission (SLC) studies of the seeps offshore Santa Barbara.

Studies in the Coal Oil Point Seep Field

Tar seeps visible from the surface at Gaviota come from seeps that resemble flat patties on a predominately sandy ocean floor.












Researchers have found that natural offshore seeps near Goleta alone have leaked up to 25 tons of oil each day – for several hundred thousand years. Photo by Dave Valentine, University of California, Santa Barbara.