The year 2019 marked the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill. On January 28, 1969, a blow-out on Union Oil's Platform A, also known as Platform Holly, spilled an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 barrels of crude oil into the Santa Barbara Channel over a ten-day period. At that time, it was the largest oil spill in the history of the United States. It was surpassed by the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 and the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010, but it remains the largest oil spill in California's waters. Often cited as a founding moment of the modern environmental movement (LeMenager 2014) and credited with inspiring extensive U.S. environmental regulation (Spezio 2018), the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill is part of a much broader and deeper story of oil in Santa Barbara County, which has been influenced by the oil industry since the early twentieth century and continues to be a site of oil extraction and contestation today.
Over the course of the fall 2018 quarter, graduate students in the Mellon Sawyer Seminar on Energy Justice in Global Perspective at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), conducted research on the history and politics of oil in Santa Barbara County. They focused on five significant sites in the area, which are plotted on the map above. To find out more about each site, click on the location on the map or the link below, which will lead you to a series of images and observations about the impact of the oil industry on the region, its people, and its environment. To learn about other ways to navigate the Field Guide, click on "How to Explore the Field Guide" below.
This research took place on the unceded lands and waters of the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation, the traditional and expert custodians of the region. While the village sites that UCSB sits upon have always been places of knowledge creation, storytelling, coming together, and exchange, UCSB was built upon the exclusion and erasure of Indigenous peoples. Because of UCSB, the Chumash do not currently have the same access to their lands and waters to do their own traditional research and educate their future generations. UCSB must listen to these lands and waters, and their Indigenous protectors, when they speak. For more information about the lands and waters UCSB occupies, and the university’s relationship to the Chumash people, please refer to this longer land acknowledgement created for the UCSB community by the Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation and Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation Cultural Representative Mia Lopez.