On Offshore Oil

Eva and Ella just offshore from Dog Beach

Photo taken this morning at Dog Beach by Ms. Jen with her Nokia N86.

I have grown up in beach communities in Southern California to a surfing / beach volleyball mad family. Much of my memories & lessons of childhood revolves around sun, sand, a fierce ocean, jellyfish stings, riptides, and tar.
From my earliest memories, nail polish remover was for getting the black sticky tar off one’s feet and it wasn’t until I was older that I learned about enamel nail polish. As a child, little patches of tar washed up on the beach was objects of play, much like the ocean’s version of play dough mashed up with silly putty. Except it only came in one color, black.
The landscape of my childhood is one of oil, oil rigs, oil donkeys/seesaw horsies, offshore oil islands & oil platforms. Southern California was just a string of Spanish missions and land grants running cattle until the discovery of oil and water. The offshore oil seeps and onshore tar pits of Los Angeles are thousands/millions of years old. Onshore and offshore oil made this town. William James Mullholland made sure that there was water for this town in the 1920s.
All my life there has been a give and take, sometimes shove and push, between the needs of the people and their need for oil to run a modern life in a semi-desert and the needs of the land and environment in California. For all of our “Land of the fruits & nuts” or “The Left Coast” or hippie environmental tree hugging, we here in California, and by California, I mean all of us, not just LA, but SF and the Central Valley, etc, we all rely on the wonders of the oil economy for our automobile based lifestyle, for our water to be pumped from the Sierra Nevada mountains, for our modern homes, the plastics that make our computers and devices, and on the list goes.
Yes, here in the western US, we have most of our electricity coming from hydropower and in the deserts of SoCal we are developing big solar farms, as well as big windmill farms in the passes between our mountains. But, a big but…
Both in SoCal and NorCal, we have built our cities on great ports with large docking for oil tankers, we have refineries that convert the oil to gasoline and other products. We build over the land that once contained many oil rigs and oil donkeys pumping oil out for our consumption, now we cleverly hide them with buildings. Or we take the rigs down, place them offshore, angle the drilling to pump into the same area, and then build million dollar homes over the land that has been soaked in oil for the last 100 years. Funny, those patches of land have some the highest rates of cancer in SoCal. Not so funny for the folks who bought the houses and let their children play in the backyards.
Layers of history. Layers of landscape. Layers of industry. Layers of suburbia. Layers of city over desert. Layers of tar washed up on the beaches.
Esther, Emma, Eva, Edith, Elly, Eureka, plus two more between Seal & Huntington Beaches and Catalina Island. I know their names, I am fond of them. Every couple of years one can surf the sand bar near Esther. Eva and Emma are just off of Dog Beach (see photo from this morning at the top). The big noisy diesel powered supply boat pulls out of the Seal Beach pier to run supplies and employees to the all the E’s. Sometimes, when you are walking your dog early or late, you see dead tired, oil smeared men in dark work overalls carrying backpacks and hardhats as they walk down the pier to a waiting car on Ocean Ave coming home from a set of shifts on the E’s.
I actually love Esther and Eva. I think they are lovely ladies, so gracefully raising from the Pacific Ocean only a mile or less off the coast. I love their bright white girders, their lights at dusk and night, and at 5am when I hear the supply boat take off from the pier, while the gunning of its engines wakes me up, I smile thinking of those men in their overalls going out to one of the ladies to bring up the crushed organic remains of 100s of millions of years old diatoms giving their ancient selves for our smog and melting glaciers.
Coal with enough time & pressure becomes diamonds, diatoms with the same time & pressure become black liquid diamonds.
Romantic pftuffle!
By age 9, I had learned that the lovely buildings on the islands in the Long Beach bay weren’t modernist apartments for the terminally hip, but disney-esque facades for the oil rigs, platforms and pumping bound for Terminal Island. To this day, I still wish they were apartments for people and not for long dead diatoms.
If tomorrow Esther or Eva’s wellhead blew out, the fix would be simpler than a deeper offshore rig as both of them sit on continental shelf that is less than a hundred feet in depth between the ocean floor and the top of the platform, possibly a bit more in Eva’s case. Yes, it would be a tragedy, yes oil booms would be placed at the entrance of the Anaheim Bay and at the entrance of the Bolsa Chica wetlands to protect the precious Seal Beach & Bolsa Chica wetlands, bird & fish hatcheries. But there are already permanent floating booms at the Bolsa Chica wetlands, as they are still pumping oil on 3 of the four sides bordering the fish & bird protected areas. The wild lands have been in terse congress with the oil lands for many many years.
I haven’t written about the DeepWater Horizon oil spill off the coast of Louisiana in the Gulf Coast yet, as I have been appalled at our collective hubris to think we could drill at depths of over 5,000 ft and horrified at the scale of the environmental disaster. All of my romanticism of the strange mix of industry and oil with the land has completely flattened and atomized by the magnitude of disaster that has been occurring in the Gulf of Mexico for the last 6 weeks.
I am horrified and saddened. Every time I see photos of birds or turtles encased in oil sludge and dying, I cry. I am not sure what else to write as my words are no sop to the enormity of tens of thousands of barrels of oil gushing from a high pressure wound in the ocean floor nearly a mile below the surface.
May this disaster be the catalyst to cause us to break up with our 150 year romance with oil, stop going back for more, and move on to sustainable forms of energy even if they are less sexy and more expensive than oil. Maybe it is time for humanity to return to a collective worship of the sun, the wind, and the waves rather than the vengeful mistress of black, black oil.
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Follow-up Post: Following the Huntington Beach Oil Trails, a Tale of Two Photos

One thought on “On Offshore Oil

  1. This is a beautifully written piece, Jen, thank you. The Deepwater Horizon disaster *should* be the catalyst to make us change, but I doubt it will be. We’re too hungry for oil and the comfortable lifestyle it gives us, and too unwilling to admit when we’ve gone too far in our pursuit of that lifestyle. We’ll look at the pictures of the oil-soaked birds, feel sad, point fingers of blame, and then turn our attention to something else in six months.
    But I’m not cynical. :-/

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