California Oil is the new blog of SOS California, a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation based in Santa Barbara, California. Our mission is to reduce the environmental impact of natural gas and oil seep pollution upon our ocean, our beaches and our air quality through education and awareness.

Our goal in starting this blog is twofold:

  • To inform a board audience about our local issues in Santa Barbara – home to the second largest natural oil and gas seeps in the world; AND
  • To engage in the ongoing discussion of energy, economics, and the environment – a discussion that could lead us to our renewable future.



Santa Barbara, California is an unusual place.  Those of us who live here have chosen this place because we know this.  First there is the unusual beauty – an astonishing confluence of mountains and sea, on an east-west trending coastline in a southern state. This unusual geology also contributes to another interesting undersea phenomenon – natural oil seeps. The Santa Barbara Channel has the second largest natural oil seeps in the world – second only to the Caspian Sea.

Oil released in large quantities by accident is considered pollution.  What, then, about oil seeps?  They are natural – and are releasing oil in large quantities. Are seeps a source of pollution?

We at Stop Oil Seeps (SOS) California believe that seep pollution is the same as spill pollution – and that there is a solution that falls into that “unusual” category.

Researchers at the Marine Science Institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) study the seep fields. During a conversation with SOS Co-Founder Lad Handelman, Dr. Bruce Luyendyk, professor and Chair of the Department of Geological Sciences, estimated the amount of oil being released from seeps located south of Point Conception as at least 10,000 gallons each day.

Now this is really unusual – Dr. Luyendyk reported a significant decrease in seep release and pressure as a result of the ongoing oil extraction by Venoco (a local oil company) from the very formations that feed the pollution off Coal Oil Point.

The Santa Barbara Channel is leaking oil – the seeps have been called “an environmental disaster happening in slow motion.” Pretty unusual.

Another way this area is unusual – the Santa Barbara Channel is unusually rich in natural resources – resources that can be impacted by oil pollution. It is the only place in the world that serves as feeding and/or breeding grounds to 27 species of marine mammals. Recent studies have focused on the behavioral, thermal, and physiological impacts on marine mammals from contact, inhalation, and ingestion of oil.

Oil can be especially harmful to our resident and migrating seabirds—particularly diving birds that must get their nourishment by entering the water.  Oil destroys the insulation and waterproofing properties of their feathers – this can cause hypothermia. Also, birds that are unable to fly because of oil-matted feathers become easy prey. Seeps pollute the air as well, by releasing methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.

Here’s the irony – the same unusual geology that provides the structure for natural seeps also provides for an enviably more contained and safer approach to drilling into offshore formations – one that allows us to access most of these resources through bedrock, from land – such that the oil never needs to come in contact with the ocean’s surface.  The key is slant drilling – and the technology is here.

So, safe access to an energy source while reducing pollution – but could there be any other benefits from oil and gas production in the Santa Barbara Channel?

Here we go – that “unusual” word again.  The County of Santa Barbara is unusually well-positioned to reap considerable economic benefits from oil and gas production in state waters.  Mark Schniepp, Ph.D., Director of the California Economic Forecast here in Santa Barbara, believes that the County could realize income from property taxes, corporate income tax, state sales tax, and royalties through oil and gas production within its boundaries.

Representative Lois Capps, at the recent Gulf Oil II presentation in Santa Barbara, stated that, “Oil is too precious to waste.” SOS agrees, and takes this concept one step farther.  Our GOAL is to alert the public to the magnitude of natural seep pollution in the Santa Barbara Channel, and to the availability of an invaluable resource to fund environmental cleanup and develop alternative energy sources. It is through collaboration with an informed public that Santa Barbara can build the bridge to a sustainable future.

Unusual, yes – say yes to oil and gas production in offshore areas near Santa Barbara as a way to improve the environment and fund alternative, renewable energy sources.

Stay tuned to this blog, and you will hear more about our unusual position. And get the chance to tell us what you think.

Let’s all start the discussion right here….




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