humpback whale

World Ocean Day!

Gaviota Coast, CA

Last week a 100,000+ gallon oil spill soiled the Gaviota Coast from a ruptured on-shore pipeline. Fortunately the Channel Islands were not affected, but the result of which has affected numerous species of marine birds and mammals. All of our operations continue to run and there hasn’t been any impact at the Channel Islands, nor do we expect there to be any. It has however sparked a very interesting conversation about off-shore drilling and it’s consequences. One week away from World Ocean Day, I feel it is only appropriate that we dive into these this conversations and see what we can do to honor our planet’s oceans in our modern society.

Let me first clear the air with regards to oil, and the irony that is immediately apparent to all who have this conversation. I use oil. I drove my car to work, and I manage an island kayaking company. We need oil to get us to-and-from the islands. Our kayaks are produced with Polyethylene (a more viscus petroleum that is actually drilled in the Santa Barbara Channel I am told). So yes, I am reliant on oil, and our business wouldn’t be very plausible without it.

How do we deal with OUR oil addiction as a company? We off-set our carbon emissions annually. While this doesn’t’ stop the oil from being drilled and demanded, it does at least comfort us to know we’re trying our best to reduce greenhouse gasses. We stopped our retail business of selling kayaks in 2010 because we didn’t see the true need for everyone to own a kayak or stand-up paddleboard. We calculated a huge number of kayaks that would no longer be produced and needed if we all shared and used the kayaks that have already been produced. Also, all of our kayaks and some of our paddleboards (BIC and BOUNCE) can be recycled. If we owned our buildings we would install solar (which has it’s issues, but darnit it’s something!), but we don’t and this makes installation very difficult.

Ok, so now that I’ve addressed my oil addiction let’s discuss what I think we can do something about.

Oil spills are akin to a plane crash. Overall both industries do a fairly good job of avoiding accidents, but when one happens, it’s really hard not to point the stinky blame fingers. In the case of Plains pipeline company, they are sort of like an airline that’s had several crashes and a horrible safety record. Yes, it’s VERY important that these companies are held accountable and in the worst case for them, not allowed to operate any longer. But that’s up to the marketplace or regulatory agencies to decide. You don’t like the airline, don’t fly them. However, you’ll probably still fly, and sometimes you can’t avoid flying the airline you don’t like because they’re the only one available. In the case of the oil industry… so many companies touch the oil we consume before it’s in our gas tanks… we would be forced to ban oil all together to have the type of market control to ban only the bad companies. And good luck boycotting oil altogether, that’s just not realistic anymore. So should our elected officials establish regulations that have a 3-strike process for accidents? Fines won’t cut it, prohibition to violators might have an affect.

Which brings me to my next thought; what if we just banned off-shore oil production? I did a little GOOGLE research and found that the US produces 1.5 million barrels per day in offshore drilling (reference), compared to about 88 million barrels per day TOTAL in the world (reference). That’s about 1.7% of the total oil production in the world per day; not an insignificant number, but not HUGE! The consequences for offshore drilling are pretty terrible because oil and water… well they just don’t splice (sorry for the Southpark reference!). Seriously, you spill oil on land, you grab a dozer and clean it up. You spill oil in the ocean and we’ve seen how silly we look trying to clean it up. It’s like trying to enjoy a cup of soup with chopsticks. So what if we accepted a 1.7% reduction in oil production? Would this cost us more? What would the global and domestic impact really be? Seams like we’d still “chug” along with the remaining 98%. (I acknowledge that I didn’t discuss global off-shore drilling here, but I don’t think we can have force that change if we can’t get the world to stop whaling yet!)

What about the negligence here at Refugio. The pipeline didn’t have an auto shut-off valve (which they’ve argued would have been worse, and honestly they’re in a terrible position to argue that things could have been worse) and it took more than 3 hours before the response team was dispatched, and why did they let oil just drip into the ocean and not stop it? Wasn’t this contingency planned for?

Metaphor time! If this had been a wildfire response, we’d be equally upset about these two factors of negligence. If a fire was spotted and then it took 3 hours for the fire crew to respond (to a fairly urban site), we’d be outraged. Especially if it destroyed a fragile and VERY sensitive ecosystem. So what the frack (yup, that’s right)? Why are our response networks soooo slow? Especially in this case where if a response had been mounted in the first hour, this ALL could have been avoided (ambitious of me to say perhaps, but it’s not a flash flood, it’s thick, viscous oil).

So who would be to blame if this WERE a wildfire? The person setting it or the response team? We’ve seen the person setting it go both ways in Santa Barbara. The ranch hand that started the Zaca fire while working was charged and fined for that fire (not someone I’m guessing with very deep pockets, and also not a very damaging fire to infrastructure), but the 10 college kids that started the Tea Fire by leaving ashes in an unlawful campfire were able to avoid ANY noticeable charges and/or fines (probably some deeper pockets there and over 300 homes destroyed). We would never blame the fire crew for their response because they’re risking their live so let’s just leave it at that (thanks guys and gals!). However, we would hope that an investigation were conducted to see if things could be improved, that’s appropriate me thinks.

What environmental movement is born from a wildfire? Do we ban fire? We DO in fact ban fire in certain places and when things are really dry. And we are very careful to act quickly if there is a spark. And we’re on watch when the situation is more dangerous (low humidity). And we have trained communications to respond rapidly to any fire that is detected.

The difference between the oil and fire example is that we can avoid the ocean if we tarnish it. We cannot outrun a rapidly spreading wildfire, and when it’s all over our homes are gone, and we may lose human lives in the process. Oil spills are too easy to get away from as humans, but not very easy if you’re a dolphin, a pelican, a lobster, a sea lion, etc.

So what do we do to honor the ocean on this coming ocean day and not let these oil spills continue?

First I strongly believe we begin to treat her with the same respect we treat ourselves (and the land we walk on). Keep her clean, and understand that ocean creatures have no other home! It’s socially unacceptable (and unlawful) to walk into a strangers home and defecate on the carpet, throw chemicals into the drinking water, and pollute the air with toxins. Why do we feel it’s ok to do this to the ocean?

Secondly we shall never make an economic decision that has a negative affect on clean water, air, and food. I honestly shake my head in disbelief that we didn’t BAN fracking when we had the chance. We are currently letting the oil companies (that can’t keep thick oil in a steel pipe) thrust unknown chemicals deep into the ground where our remaining drinking water sits. SERIOUSLY?! What amount of money is worth polluted drinking water? And how do we regulate spills into crack underground. We won’t see that spill. We need to weigh the health of our planet higher than the balance of our bank account. It’s illogical to do otherwise.

And lastly, let’s finally use our ingenuity and intelligence to move into cleaner energy sources. Use the remaining oil to help us get there. It’s like you were on a train that’s clearly going to run out of track, but someone offers you a thousand dollars if you stay on the train to keep them company, and you’re thinking, “a thousand bucks will get me a nice TV when I finally get off this train”. And then the train goes off the tracks way sooner than you expected… so much for the TV!

This ocean day, June 8th, 2015, I ask that you think about one way you can honor the oceans more and make a lifestyle commitment to affect that positive change (or less impact). This isn’t an environmental movement, a political agenda, or a hippies rant on oil tyrants… it’s a plea for rational, thoughtful, balanced thinking. Thanks for reading,

Garrett Kababik CEO and Co-Founder Channel Islands Outfitters

It is our mission to save the oceans and natural places by fostering an understanding of them through education, adventures and outdoor experiences.