Santa Barbara, California, is a famously beautiful place, but if you look offshore from one of the city's many beaches, you'll see a series of artificial structures that stand out against the natural blue horizon. These oil platforms are at the center of a complicated debate going on right now within the environmental community about the relationship between nature and human infrastructure.
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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
This is ninety. Nine percent, invisible, I'm roman, Mars
there are a lot of beautiful places in California downtown.
Oakland, for example, but Santa Barbara is like stupid, beautiful Catholic.
They are comically picturesque, California, seen here a few months
we sent producer, Emmett Fitzgerald down to Santa Barbara, on a really taxing reporting assignment realities.
Beautiful, sailboats, pelicans side too
beginning the sad.
here comes a wave
and it really put himself in harm's way for the story. But if you look
The at the ocean from this scenic spot, see something else something little less
conventionally attractive or at all, on the horizon line. He felt one.
Five, six, seven, he big offshore oil platforms. They look like buildings out their floating in the water, Jane battleships or something at the prettiest ecological here. Don't love them
Those oil platforms off Santa Barbara or at the centre of a complicated debate, going on right now with the new environmental community about the relationship between nature and human infrastructure.
Although there have been a source of controversy since they first when in the water back emanating fifties and sixtys, I came to Santa Barbara nineteen sixty six. This is right.
Rick NASH and environmental historian, who move to Santa Barbara from New Hampshire to take a job in history to permanent. You see us be, and it didn't take em law.
To fall in love with his new home
began to realize what people have told me. They said so
bob is like the American Riviera, it's kind of a paradise
endless summer, but at the time he said,
There was a sense that this coastal paradise and its lucrative tourist economy will under threat from these.
Massive oil rigs going up all throughout the
Then a barber channel there were cries from the people,
Santa Barbara saying not so fast
Let's let think about the consequences of this. We look out at the channel. This is the million dollar view. This is this is what the economy
the culture of Santa Barbara about
and now suddenly, but putting all show
call rates out there and we're us assure that were protected from spells,
but at the time there wasn't a whole lot. Anyone could do the EPA
didn't exist, yet there were no major environmental regulations in place, and so
the oil platforms went in and they operated without any major spills until
Cole January twenty Eightth nineteen sixty nine.
I was working on the fourth.
Floor of the up, the sale building tat overlooked the ocean. This is but
items local artists to actually passed away? Last year, this audio video interview, the bottoms, did a few years back, where I ve described getting a phone call from a friend who had flown into Santa Barbara. Earlier that day he was flying over the channel. This particular day they saw
blow out their oil from early this platform by crazy,
washed out. Here. Is black boy
union oil. The owner of the platform in question had failed to build a large enough protective casein for one of its wealth and the oil.
Which was under immense pressure for
It's way around the well and rubbed it through the ocean floor.
Thousand gallons of crude, were pouring into the ocean every hour. Roderick NASH heard about
spell that same day, but he says it
a little while for the scale of the disaster, to really set in like remember
walking down the beach. No change notes
And then I walked down the beach one day and it was a
act. I knew there was oil and suddenly
the postcard beaches of Santa Barbara were black.
Crude oil thoughts on top of water, and so this bill was particularly deadly, foresee birds that dive into the water to catch fish he go in and your feathers are covered with oil, and you can't fly you flap flap, helplessly on the beach. It was
an apocalyptic see. Although
NASH says the most uncanny thing may have been the sound. The waves were very quiet because they were oil
They had sort of a machine sound, because what was really breaking was-
took three inches of oil. On top of the water we stood there and cried
I hear grown men and women sitting there cried
the beach was half their life
and we thought it was all over for us
as sad as the nineteen sixty nine spill was, but
Bottoms was mostly just furious
so angry. I did
screamed out. We
I get oil out.
He recalled screaming, get oil out at work
and then my boss was the next off. As you said, hey get oil dot, do good name
And so do spelled g o o exclamation point
became name of a new environmental organisation that bottoms help launch in Santa Barbara and Goose girl, with simple stop
oil drilling and eventually get those platforms out of there
What more can we do you now to stop? Dialogue will end. Our beautiful
steam no Stone Santa Barbara
Goo held rallies and marches. They organised a human blockade to prevent oil trucks from reaching the harbour, and
a war more creative forms. A protest who had said
I was a little bottles of oil
out of our harbour to every area.
Official there was
they can see for themselves what we are dealing with. The oil spill COS
We became an international news story in part because of the timing. This is
very beginning of the modern environmental movement, a
Carson's landmark book silent spring had come out to the few years before the APOLLO. Eight spacecraft.
Was orbiting, the moon for the first time, sending back
photos of the earth. Looking like a blue green marble in the empty desert of space,
for the first time, people were beginning to understand that the planet was small and fragile and humans were doing a great deal of damage, and so on
Those images of oil drenched seabirds dying on beautiful California, beaches. They went around the world. People looked at these furs and I thought
Santa Barbara. The spill.
The galvanizing event for environmentalists on the first
anniversary activists right
elite in Santa Barbara and
then went on to organise the first earth day. Saying
this is why we need. This is why we need arrested because
Like the sound of our oil spill, the oil spill
what inspired Roderick NASH, to start, one of the country's first environmental studies, programmes that you see Santa Barbara it also
debates in Congress and help rally support for some of the most important environmental bills. In? U S, history, the nineteen sixty nine national environmental Policy act was followed by the Clean AIR Act in nineteen. Seventy, the clean Water ACT in nineteen, seventy two and the endangered species ACT in nineteen. Seventy, three Justin
increasingly as you look back at it from now fifty years, you look back
can it you can really say holy cow, though,
a lot of change in the sun.
Barbara oil spill
A lot to do that change.
Spill catalyzed a national movement, but there was still the question of the platforms themselves. Local
opposition, put a stop to most new oil exploration of California, but the existing oil rigs have continued to operate for decades,
today. Many of those old platforms are reaching the end of their productive lifetimes and
on their original leads agreements. They should be decommissioned and removed from the water Karla Free.
Ask is on the board of go it's still around and
She can't wait for the oil companies to be gone
the end lease and be done and then get
equipment and go away get oil out. If you will
still so that all really yeah, you don't have any doubts about what the organizations about right off the bat first course
oil companies to return the Santa Barbara Channel to the way it was before the platforms when the water
Christine Ocean environment without any giant artificial structures? And when you go down there, that you would never know that they were there. I mean that's really which be you know we
come to the ocean. It should be the ocean that simple goal
one that members have to have been fighting for, since nineteen sixty is, it would seem like it's time has finally come, but there's one little hitch. These platforms are the most productive.
Habitats in the world ocean anywhere in the world. This
is Milton love. I may research biologist at the Marines
since the two University of California. Santa Barbara love is
third of classic science books like, and this is really the title pro,
probably more than you want to know about the fishes of the Pacific Coast and also the seat
certainly more than you want to know about the fishes of the Pacific Coast, a post, modern experience. It's a six hundred and fifty page tone
full of fish facts, historical anecdotes and some of his original poetry accord?
to love. It weighs five point four pounds: it's actually a dangerous weapon in the wrong hands and-
bills cliche to say that a scientist just really loves the thing that they study, but it must be said, Milton love loves fish. I have two tattoos of fish and one is a vague,
I'll cod, which is Iraq fish, but the other one is of a deep anglerfish is in a decent place. Can I see it
Well all I said I have to take my shirt without thinking,
I guess he pulls off his shirt to reveal a fading shoulder tattoo. It's this big
email anglerfish with a tiny little male fish latched onto her side. There. There is the female
in that little nobby thing that sir? That's the mail there
love drew up fishing on the beaches and peers of Santa Monica. These
need biology ass. You see us be
eventually ended up back at his alma mater, where he started up his own research lab the love lab, but in the
apps early days, he had a really hard time getting grants to fund his fish research and in Nigeria
five. I was at a at a low point. There is no question. I had no funding.
But just when things were at their bleakest love got an unexpected phone
I, as a phoney says this is Lyman Thorstenson, I'm from the national biological survey, which was a good
programme, the nineties that aim to catalogue and describe ecosystem throughout the country, and I swear,
God that's what he said. He said dumb,
If you had money for real
urge. What would you would you do?
What does not how signs usually works? Nobody knows
nobody calls and says I have money
it's the other way around. It's a very dickensian kind of thing. It's like you're, the little beggar boy you come over and you go like please could I have
two thousand dollars. Please love thought about
to answer the surprise question and he landed on something that had been nagging him since he first came to Santa Barbara backing
Twenties love used to collect fish for local aquarium and one day
he and his fishing partner took their little Boston, whaler out to the oil platforms and start
fishing around them. There is like fish up
was zoo in and we could have filled up the aquarium with all the fish. We call
ever since then he had wondered what was going on down there and so here's this dude
offering me money- and I said well- I'm really entry
stood in these all platforms off here. Their large structures
to know the role that they play as habitat for fishes, and he said, oh that sounds interesting and
Funding in hand Milton love, got team together, rented a small summary and began.
The study, the platforms, the fur
dive I made in the submersible- was it platform
I'll go which is located just barely into central California. Red sits in about four
turn fifty feet of water. He took the submersible all the way to the bottom.
Fish in particular, schools of adult rock fish were swirling around the base of the platform.
And there was a lot of fish and protect
schools of adult rock fish or swirling around the base of the platform and ass. He started making his way up the structure. He saw a lot of smaller juvenile fish and we're talking Hunter
thousands of these young fish. Then the metal itself was covered with colorful, invertebrates, see, stars muscles sponges and these little craft
walking all over the struts, never coming back on deck to research. Vessel and the hatch. Pops in everybody's
all the lab is there and the crew, the boats therein they're waiting for me to say something. I said this was like. I said
like an amazing place.
That platform. Dive was the first of many that Milton love in the other scientists at the love lab would do over the next fifteen years. Lover members, one
I've, in particular, from this period around a platform called Gilda.
One of his colleagues went down first and when she came back
up. She said, basically that was unbelievable. This
and just always videotape these dives to show people who didn't believe them, and so she played them the recording right there on the boat,
You put it in there and we're gonna like oh, my god, that's the most.
We ve ever seen around the platform. Not every trip down was like that. All platforms are differently
says some don't have a lot of fish than that always varies year to year, but often love,
found that these oil platforms were like little oases of marine life, the
is a big empty place in animals tend to concentrate around stuff.
The only reason there there is they like to hang out with stuff many invertebrate
need a physical object to latch onto, and rock fish. One
hide and nooks and crannies or
spin around anything with a little structure to it. They don't care what
structures made out of it can be a pipe. It can be a platform. It can be a tire it can be a rock
oil platforms, or particularly popular structures with the fishes, because they have a lot of surface area and complexity and they
stand hundreds of feet through the water column like a marine skyscraper rock fish, live it
different depths throughout their life cycle, mainly oil platform. This incredible home for fish of all ages, younger
This tend to live higher up the platform and time after time,
love, was finding lots of them. There were so many that I I started thinking like what does this mean biologically?
like ok, so we're seeing a lot of juvenile fish, but how,
important of these platforms really in terms of the overall ecosystem. Trying at the bottom up,
love and because you looked at one particular species of and around the Boccaccio
it's got a big mouth, that's what it means in Italian. Boccaccio means big mouth
the Boccaccio are heavily fish around Santa Barbara and around this time the stock was so depleted that the garden
close the fishery, but when loved a survey of seven different oil platforms, then there's all these baby book
and then we're talking a lot about
four hundred and fifty thousand to put that.
We're in context. Love called up a scientist at the National Marine Fisheries Service who was responsible for counting all the Boccaccio on the Pacific coast. His name was Alex, so I said,
We estimated that there were forbidden
thousand baby Boccaccio at these seven platform is that important,
Because you know like maybe it's not- I didn't know so yet a model that are used.
So he plug that in came back couple weeks later and he said dab. Well,
on an average year, that's twenty percent of all the baby will catch. You on the entire pacific coast were at those seven platforms and babies.
Are particularly important to rebuilding the overall population. Somebody, like you, know what that seems like those platforms were important,
for rebuilding that particular species
still, as loves results were coming in a lot of people.
Maybe the rigs we're just Lorraine fish away from natural habitat love says that there too
ITALY valid concern than does happen with a lot of artificial reefs. But after you,
of studying these oil platforms, people's confident that at least for some species of fish, the platform,
are giving the overall population a boost,
preponderance of evidence is that for aid
ten or maybe twelve species of rock fish. There are more of them in California because of all these platforms, then, would be here if the platforms were not here
and some scientists would go even further. A few years ago, someone else tried to calculate just how biologically productive the platforms were them.
Productive habitats are places like rain forests, coral reefs, but when the scientist ran the numbers he found that
platforms are the most productive habitats in the world ocean anywhere in the world. Now we
that with the grain of salt, there are tons of habitats that scientists haven't studied in this way. But the point is
these are fully functioning reefs
They contain all the animals. You would expect to see on a myriad
natural rooms, which begs the question
is it in the interests of the people, California, to blow up a fully functioning reef and destroy it in twenty ten
the California legislature decided it wasn't and they passed a b to five over three a bill known as rigs tariffs which allow the oil companies to leave
If an oil platform in place,
It could be shown to have a net benefit on the marine environment.
The oil companies would still need to plug the wells and lopped off the top. The platforms that boats could travel over it, but they would be
I to leave some of the structure in place so far, though
No one has made use of this bill, and the future of
California's offshore platforms is still very much up in the air and allow
of environmentalists, aren't sold on the idea of turning rigs into reefs
I have concerns about liability, and the potential
for future leaks and the original
least, agreements specify that the platforms will be fully removed. When the oil ran out, there wasn't a loophole. Its
They could stay if they turned into beautiful fish habitat. To me, it's breaking a promise. This is Carlo Frisk again from Google
the promise was, these would go away and now later,
want them to go away. Then tell
unity, don't worry we're going to clean up our garbage, afterward gone and then say: well, we mean then and
Even if you love fish- and I really do love fish frustration is understandable,
environmental activists in Santa Barbara have had to deal with oil in their backyard for the last fifty years and twenty
fifteen and oil pipeline a few miles north of Santa Barbara started leaking right into the ocean was
horrible reminder of the sixty nine spill and the dangers of living with oil infrastructure
all. The companies are saying: hey these giant structures in the ocean that cause you all these problems there actually
good for the environment. Look at the research, their habitat, it's not about.
Mozilla is not convinced that oil executive support rig store reefs because of their concern for the rock fish. My feeling is that there are motivated by saving money meant save a whole lot of money by not applying those out the rigs
off Santa Barbara. Are massive pieces of infrastructure, some of them
largest oil platforms in the world for
Removing them would be extremely difficult and avoiding those
costs could save the oil companies millions of dollars under
the twenty ten weeks to reef spill, those savings will be split with a state but still alive.
Our mental groups. Don't love signing off on a policy that feels like a hand out to the oil industry dismissed
they because environmental groups are currently fighting new.
Offshore oil development the trumpet
restoration, is indicated that they want to issue new offshore oil and gas leases off California.
California has resisted the plan, but environmental groups worry that if the costs
decommissioning go down and the oil companies can argue that the structures are actually good for wildlife. They could
an easier time, building new oil platforms and new
who offshore oil drilling is the worst case scenario that all environmental groups want to avoid, not just because of
risk of future spills, but because, if we
stop the worst impacts of climate change, we're going to have to start leaving fossil fuels in the ground. Milk love agrees that climate change is one of the big
his threats to the world's oceans, and so I asked him what he thinks about this,
that the oil industry probably lead
Ex his research. I have tended.
To avoid dealing with the
well in street. To the extent I can, but obviously they read my my papers, they like it. I guess I mean it.
I've never had a ceo comin go like this is great stuff. Man, I loved your stuff,
Thank you. Thank you think I'm there. Anybody do that, but his final
definitely helped oil companies make their argument to the
my findings bolster
The oil companies positions. That's just
what happens with facts. The fact
of Milton loves. Research, don't mean that oil infrastructure is good for wildlife and usually isn't it. You mean that
few instances off the southern California Coast oil platform,
become useful habitat for a few
from species of fish
love is not in favour of building new offshore oil platforms or even building lots of new artificial, reeks. But
in this situation. The artificial reef is already there live,
who is once you put something in the ocean and it becomes habitat for animals. I don't
should pull it out because, like? Why should we punish those animals, just as they have the misfortune of
settling out on a piece of steel rather than on a wrong after all, right
or just looking for a little structure and their lives? They don't care.
If it's a rocky outcrop were a shipwreck or an oil platform,
social thanks to Christian his love of the Environmental Defence Centre, who also spoke to us for the story and also a big thank you to JANET bridges from earth alert for kindly letting us use on you from her interview with Bob
taking what we learn from offshore oil platforms and applying it
to offshore wind farms. After this.
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So one of things about doing a story like this. What we do
about the accidental benefits of humans,
seven, the ocean is that you could
then we come away with the idea that this is
necessarily a good thing, all the time that we should just don't stuff in the ocean, and so I'm in the severe here with them. It is general, do report that peace to address
This issue head on yeah. I know, as you know me, I was alone there s about with the peace. You know you can kind of tat
the wrong conclusion like take the conclusion of the peace like too far
You know if he started think me. A fish like together,
on stuff, then, let's just a London have put into the water, and the crazy thing is that we have done this. We have built artificial reefs, a lot in the past, and people have thrown all kinds.
The things into the ocean. Thinking that this is gonna be beneficial. There been in old, washing machines are subway cars, they even sunk in old aircraft carrier once off the Florida Panhandle it became known, as that is the great carrier, reef, Lutherans, clever,
and the results are are mixed. Often, when you put structure into the water, it did does attract fish and, as a result, I shall be one of the constituencies. Are the people at that have tended to support these sorts of projects, artificial
anything off our fish from hidden, because it concentrates all the fish in one place and makes them easier to catch. And so an argument against artificial reefs is that they like.
To our can exacerbate overfishing and that's totally
a real concern is also you know, I'm in one of the more egregious examples of a misguided, our official reaping attempt that I came across.
Happened in the nineteen seventies, where people Don T half a million tyres automobile tyres into the ocean off for Lauderdale Austin.
The blue. You know in an effort to create an artificial reef that seems like the worst possible substrate
To build a reef of heart attack is not conducive to life at all completely, and I was angry with an abject failure. It's like, after they got thirty acre dead zone around there. Now is an anomaly that, but like built the tires leech stuff that was done,
mental, to a natural coral reef, fish having combat United sort of the worst case scenario of taking this idea, and going too far with it
and I put things out in the marine environment were building breakwaters around harbours were building bridges were building here we have been building a lot of oil platforms, moving the future polygon rebuilding a lot of renewable energy in a wind platform for
we're gonna, put things out in the marine environment were building breakwaters around harbours were building bridges were building
We haven't, got a lot of oil platforms, moving the future polygon rebuilding a lot of renewable energy in a wind plant,
form for offshore wind. So this is Jeremy.
Place he's a professor of marine biology, cow, Polly Pomona, and he was actually the scientists that that ran the numbers and quantified how biologically productive, the California oil rigs. Aren't you remember that from the story and journeys
Argument is basically that you know with all of this infrastructure. We should be thinking about the issue.
Acted it will have on the marine environment and see if there are ways that we can design the structure before it goes in the water so that
Your has a chance to become beneficial habitat
so in the oil platform story was a total accident. These structures became reefs, but he's saying that maybe we can act
They do some of this intentionally or maybe even do it better. With some intention or
if we think about you, know how we could design human infrastructure to maximize
sabotage benefits. Basically, and he's particularly focused on the question of offshore wind, which to me, is this really interesting example, because, unlike oil platforms,
upload when it comes to climate change. Offshore wind is this.
I'm a solution in this potentially William important climate solution. Now you know, we know that we're gonna need to build a lot of these structures in the coming decades like and if we want to avoid the worst case scenarios when it comes to climate change. We're gonna need some offshore wind
fully in all these offshore wind platforms, thought can be
into designing them and then once their put out there, we can study them and understand each other.
The negatives that's going on and try to revise those overtime and do the best we can.
Stuff opening out into the marine environment, so is it
happening anywhere, yet, as anyone actually designing wind platforms with biological life as a priority,
or kind at the beginning of this, but the place right now in the world with the most offshore wind is the North Sea in Europe, and
there are a lot of wind turbines there that are just their basically just attached to the sea bed by a single pull. It doesn't have a lot of complexity, that structure and one of the things that really great about offshore
Oil platforms is that they ve got some of that structural complexity that fish tend to like and so in the North sea. One thing that people are doing is starting to think about, like how can we add a little bit of structural complexity to these wind turbines,
And you're up in the North Sea, they're doing things to increase the complexity on a down at the base. There's opportunities to create more complex habitat surrounding it, with Corey, rocker or different structures to try to
approval of the habitat for fish living down there? But you know off
California, this situation is actually really different. The ocean floor, if, as he goes out to Sea and California, drops off a really quickly and gets really deep and so on
or wind turbines in California. If they do, com are,
Actually, gonna need to be designed to float
so there's a whole set of new challenges in terms of deploying is floating structures, but a lot of them apart.
It's gonna be under water is very
structure to the top part. That's underwater of these offshore oil platforms. Solana, whereat right now, is trying to study the visual living on these offshore oil platforms. It's kind of a proxy
what you would expect. The fishermen
experience living off these floating wind platforms, soldier,
is hoping that his research can inform the design of these structures. If and when offshore wind becomes a reality in California, but you know what it was in his indictment. Jerry he's like he's. A
the marine biologist is obviously focused on fish. There are,
huge engineering challenges and and design challenges with offshore wind and solar anger hit. Getting these people to care about fish is not necessary, is not. He doesn't think it's gonna necessarily be the easiest. I think
The economic and engineering challenges
These structures so
We at least it's probably hard to come in and say: well let s think about how these are going to give for the fish, but ultimately, there
I think that's what we should be doing at the end
the day we still, we shouldn't get too carried away with his with these
ideas or think that weak
design. Perfect habitats of human infrastructure is going to have. I think that you know obvious.
And we put a big piece of infrastructure into the water. It's going to be disruptive on some level.
And then then? That's always that's always true, and we always need to be thinking about how to mitigate the
negative impacts that a big piece of human infrastructure
is going to have it with offshore wind a thing.
People are obviously very concerned about is, is sea birds
that's a whole other set of of design challenge is how to you. How do you build these
structures and away where they dont disrupt Seeber habitat, but I think that first,
that is like how do we mitigate disruption,
and damage, and then you can start thinking about what our ways in which we could maybe actually have small benefits right. Does
can never replace the concept of conservation, total innovation and design and impact design should go hand in hand.
Even though we can make a nice habitat on the butter
The wind platform, it doesn't mean
we shouldn't be protecting the natural reefs
an environment, justice,
much as we always should, I like its it, doesn't replace it at all,
clearly there is no they nothing. Your grand design is is better than what said, leaving nature along exactly good bright completely in some of the most interesting
that's being done in terms
artificial reefs that I think people do support is is
speaking about habitat restoration. You know a place where we ve done a lot of damage with some other kind of development. Is there a way that we can intervene again,
with an eye to some kind of design solution, but for the purposes of
of trying to rehabilitate something that was already there and then maybe also have future policies in which we dont disrupt Greece to begin yeah. That's that's very nice. Do that.
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Nothing I presented visible was pretty sweet by Emmett Fitzgerald makes intact production by Sharif. Useth music by sharia. Katy mingle is the senior producer for coal studies. The digital director threaten include senior editor, Delaney Hall gave reach of military Massa, Joe Rosenberg Vivian Lee and me roman Mars. We are project of ninety one point: seven K, L W in San Francisco in produced on radio row in beautiful, downtown, Oakland, California, ninety nine percent invisible as a member of Radio Tokyo from the our acts of an independent, collective, the most innovative shows in all of pot casting find them all and radio told me that I found you can find the show in joint discussions about the show on Facebook. Entreated me a roman Mars in the show and ninety nine p organ upon Instagram Tumblr and ready to bid your thinking. This episode will be even better if I was looking at pretty pictures of rock fish. What we ve got a covered and ninety nine p I dont work. Radio do.
Transcript generated on 2020-02-14.