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The oil spill that triggered the debate over offshore drilling

June 18, 2008 | 11:23 am

Oil

The decades-long battle over offshore oil drilling flared up again today after President Bush said it was time to lift a ban on drilling in coastal waters. That ban was inspired in part by the environmental disaster that took place off the Santa Barbara coast nearly 40 years ago.

In January 1969, an offshore oil rig about five miles off the Santa Barbara coast "blew out" as it drilled deep into the earth. For the next month, about 1,000 gallons of crude an hour spewed out from cracks in the ocean floor, creating a 35 mile-long slick that blackened beaches and harbors and killed and injured countless birds and other wildlife. National television coverage of injured animals and tar-covered beaches triggered public outrage and helped jump-start the environmental movement.

The "incident has frankly touched the conscience of the American people," said newly sworn-in President Richard Nixon after viewing the aftermath of the approximately 3 million-gallon spill.

But with gas prices closing in on $5 a gallon, the environmental movement spawned in part by the Santa Barbara spill now finds itself struggling against growing pressure to expand oil exploration, according to an LAT story.

Ironically, the waters off the Santa Barbara coast also were the site of the nation's first offshore oil well, which was drilled from a wooden pier in 1896 in Summerland.

-- Jesus Sanchez

Photo: Los Angeles Times