Oil and water

I grew up in a beach town. We'd spend summers swimming out to buoys and winters exploring tide pools.

We'd take boat trips to the Channel Islands, off the coast of my hometown, Ventura, Calif. We'd watch dolphins and pelicans from the boat. Occasionally we'd spot a gray whale.

And always, there were the oil rigs: These strange steel structures, barnacled over, sitting on the sea, shining lights over the water at night.

Musician and surfer Jack Johnson, whom I used to see hanging around Santa Barbara in flip-flops, calls oil rigs "Alien Casinos."

I tell people that the only thing I miss about Southern California, besides my family and friends, is the ocean.

But I don't miss the oil rigs.

In 1969, there was a giant oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, where I lived for five years before moving to Ashland in 2008. Over 10 days, about 100,000 barrels of oil gushed into the ocean, washing up on the shores of Santa Barbara and the Channel Islands, and killing an estimated 10,000 birds.

It's been 37 days since oil began leaking into the Gulf of Mexico. No one knows the extent of the damage yet. But it's looking like it will earn the title of Worst Oil Spill in U.S. History.

As I write this, on Wednesday afternoon, BP has just attempted to "top kill" the oil leak by stuffing heavier material on top of it. Has it worked? No one knows yet.

But here's the problem: Even after the Gulf leak is stopped, and the oil has been scrubbed from the pelicans, and the dead wildlife has decomposed, and the muck has been sopped up from the beaches as best it can be, even then, our problems will not be solved.

If we keep demanding so much oil, there's bound to be more drilling. If we keep drilling for oil in the ocean, there are bound to be more leaks. And they're bound to be bad.

Back in my hometown, I have friends who are marine biologists and friends who work on oil rigs. One in the latter group made me think when he posted this on Facebook last week:

"To all the conspiracy theory, big oil, economic success haters: Answer me this, did you drive "… to work/school today? Did you eat anything that you didn't grow or butcher in your own backyard, did you heat that food on a stove, did you take a warm shower, turn on any appliance in your house, wear clothes not made of cotton or hemp?

"Well if you answered yes to any of these, you can thank the big oil you love to condemn."

You know what? He's right. We're gulping up the oil the "big oil" companies are drilling.

So, this being 2010, I also took to Facebook and asked my friends, is the Gulf oil spill a sign that we should be weaning ourselves off oil?

"Yes, it is. We have the technology already. The rest is politics and existing power structures," my best friend wrote from Ashland. Very logical, I thought.

"It's a sign from God that we need more foreign oil. We need another invasion!" my brother wrote from San Diego. Very funny, I thought.

"I just can't believe that after years and years of drilling for oil in the ocean and several other oil spills and leaks, we still have no plausible solution should a spill happen! Would that not have been reasonable research for the oil companies in their R&D from the beginning? Where are the scientists and engineers on this one? A 'Top Hat,' really?" my cousin wrote from Ireland. Very true, I thought.

Oil spills don't have to continue to happen. We don't have to continue to demand so much oil.

Because you know, this whole situation, it's like oil and water. They just don't go well together.

Reach reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com. For past columns see dailytidings.com/ecologic.

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