ENCINITAS — More than 100 people stood on Moonlight State Beach holding hands — their colorful shirts looking bright against the “May gray” morning — as they formed a human line in the sand to protest new offshore drilling.
The demonstration at Moonlight State Beach was part of a larger protest called Hands Across the Sand. According to the organization’s website, 117 events were scheduled on May 19 in 18 states and seven countries “to say NO to fossil fuels and YES to clean energy!” Mission Beach in San Diego was also a participating location.
The San Diego County Chapter of Surfrider Foundation and Oceana Southern California organized the Encinitas event with the specific purpose to oppose the federal government’s proposal to greatly expand offshore drilling, as described in the 2019–2024 National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Draft Proposed Program.
Standing hand in hand in a line by the shore symbolically expressed resistance to the plan to consider new leases of offshore gas and oil drilling in almost all federal waters of the United States — an area encompassing more than 90 percent of the nation’s outer continental shelf (OCS).
If adopted, the program would reverse the decades-long moratorium on new offshore-drilling operations in California and almost completely unravel the drilling ban imposed by President Barack Obama on about 94 percent of the OCS.
Brady Bradshaw, a Southern California campaign organizer for Oceana, said, “This is the most radical and extreme drilling proposal ever put forth by any president.” He noted that “people are jumping into action” to fight the plan by participating in the May 19 protest, signing petitions and urging their representatives to take a stand against new drilling.
Sally Prendergast spread the word about the proposal at Moonlight Beach on behalf of the North County Coastal Group of the Sierra Club. She said, “The most valuable thing we have in Southern California are our beaches, and at the time when we are moving toward renewable energy, reverting to drilling is reckless and irresponsible.”
The federal draft proposal, issued by the Department of the Interior on Jan. 4, 2018, states, “Including at this stage nearly the entire OCS for potential oil and gas discovery is consistent with advancing the goal of moving the United States from simply aspiring for energy independence to attaining energy dominance.”
Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has stated that current offshore-drilling protections have impeded energy production and resulted in billions of dollars of lost revenue. The Trump administration, therefore, proposes 47 potential new lease sales to gas and oil companies to drill in the OCS. Nineteen would be off Alaska’s coast, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, nine in the Atlantic and seven in the Pacific.
Two of the Pacific leases are proposed for Southern California. California has not allowed any new state leases since the disastrous Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969, and no new federal leases have been granted off California’s shores since 1984.
Functioning on lease agreements that predate those bans, in California there are four oil platforms operating in state waters and 23 in federal waters. State waters extend from California’s coastline to three nautical miles offshore. The federal government owns the seabed — and the mineral resources it contains — from at least 200 miles beyond the state boundary.
Environmentalists and others who oppose expanded offshore drilling say that new leases would increase the risk of oil spills, which can have catastrophic effects on marine ecosystems and coastal tourism.
The Hands Across the Sand protest took place on the three-year anniversary of the Refugio oil spill, when a ruptured pipeline released over 100,000 gallons of oil into the ocean by Santa Barbara and cost an estimated $96 million to clean up.
According to Oceana’s website, the California coastal area’s fishing, tourism and recreation industries support more than 596,000 jobs and generate more than $42 billion in gross domestic product.
Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear and Deputy Mayor Joe Mosca both participated in the Moonlight Beach demonstration. Blakespear said, “Standing in solidarity with others who share the same value of a clean energy future is critical to create and sustain the momentum needed for change. Difficult policy decisions don’t happen in a vacuum. The climate warriors consistently show up and join hands, as they did today. This creates the conditions for true change.”
While many California leaders and organizations — such as Gov. Jerry Brown, Attorney General Xavier Becerra and the California Fish and Game Commission — have made their opposition clear, Bradshaw was disappointed by Rep. Darrell Issa’s lack of follow-through on his promise to protect the state’s waters.
Although Issa issued a press release after the federal draft proposal became public, stating that he would “work to ensure … that California’s coastal areas are taken out of consideration,” he has yet to lodge his formal dissent with the Department of the Interior, according to Bradshaw.
Bradshaw wants Issa to make good on his promise and also asks Rep. Duncan Hunter, who has remained silent on the issue, to take a stand against increased offshore drilling.