When most University of California Santa Barbara students stand on Campus Point and look out at Platform Holly – the closest oil platform to I.V. – they don’t think much of it. Students also don’t realize that for decades oil companies have been trying to persuade the State and the County to allow oil development directly off Campus Point. Even more surprisingly, many students do not know that there is a dangerous oil processing plant nearby in Ellwood. It is vitally important to understand what is happening around us, not only to help protect our environment, but our health as well.

We cannot take our beautiful coastline or our safety for granted. An oil company called Venoco runs an oil processing plant right in our backyard. Occasionally, it spews toxic, possibly deadly, fumes. Venoco claims that since the gas releases in 1999, which forced the State and County to shut it down, it has cleaned up its act. It must not have done a very good job since Venoco suffered two additional uncontrollable gas releases in Dec. 2001, both times requiring Platform Holly and the Ellwood processing plant to shutdown. Thankfully no one was hurt, but the question that remains, is why do we allow Venoco to exist in close proximity to our homes at all?

The answer is legally complicated, but it boils down to a few main points. Venoco’s Ellwood processing facility was rezoned for recreational use in 1991. Venoco bought it anyway in 1997, knowing that because of rezoning they would never be allowed to expand the facility and would have to eventually relocate. Instead, Venoco proposes moving its oil processing from Ellwood to Platform Holly and building a 25-mile underwater pipeline from Santa Barbara to Rincon in Ventura. The problem? An underwater pipeline could rupture and leak thousands of gallons of oil into the ocean we love so much. The majority of students are not aware of this issues, and Venoco wants to keep it that way.

The fact that we need more energy in California is obvious, but we must investigate alternatives that are not dangerous to the environment. If we simply raised federal fuel efficiency standards, we could save more oil than all the proposed oil development off the California coast, in Los Padres National Forest and in Alaska combined. It might sound like a common clichŽ, but we need to end our dirty addiction to oil. We should invest money in alternative energy sources while becoming more fuel-efficient. For example, Biodiesel is a fuel made from recycled cooking oils and alcohol. It is non-toxic and significantly reduces air pollution and greenhouse gases. While it is not perfect yet, it is a great alternative. It is time to really take a look at what is happening around us and make a choice. Will we have the strength and intelligence to change our world for the better? Hopefully we will make the smart choice and develop alternatives instead of drilling deeper and farther for fewer rewards and greater risks.

Athena Sojourner-Nelson is a senior physical anthropology major with a minor in history.