“Black oil lining the waves and covering your beaches in oil. Beaches closed, businesses shut down and sea birds drenched in oil. I’d like to pretend that’s not a likely sight for Santa Barbara,” Stephanie Prufer, an oceans campaigner from the Center for Biological Diversity, told crowd members gathered in Storke Plaza. 

The demonstration aimed to draw attention to oil spills, such as the 2015 pipeline spill at Refugio State Beach, pictured above. Nexus file photo 

Prufer, who spoke at a demonstration put on earlier this month by the UC Santa Barbara chapter of the California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG), aimed to draw attention to oil and gas drilling in Santa Barbara. During the demonstration, approximately 25 students dressed in all black laid down in the plaza — representing an oil spill — while speakers around them read poems and spoke about the dangers of oil drilling. 

In her speech, Prufer referenced two Santa Barbara oil spills — the 2015 Plains pipeline spill at Refugio State Beach and the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, the latter of which launched the modern environmental movement. 

The early March demonstration was organized by CALPIRG to draw attention to the damage oil spills can cause. Governor Gavin Newsom introduced a moratorium in 2019 that prohibits new high-pressure cyclic steaming extraction wells, requires permits that will be closely examined for adherence to new environmental regulations and introduces new rules for public safety, according to Chloe Kerr-Stein, a first-year writing & literature major who works with CALPIRG. 

But the organization hopes to convince Newsom to ban oil drilling completely; the group met with him at the beginning of winter quarter with the hope of convincing him to do just that.

“[Newsom] wanted to see overwhelming student support for the issue. So that’s what we’re showing him with these emails, with the people who came out today,” Kerr-Stein said. 

Sarah Jagger, the organizer for CALPIRG’s 100% renewable energy campaign, said she believes now is the time to divest from fossil fuels and do away with oil and gas drilling. 

 “In the time of climate catastrophe, it doesn’t make sense to further the issue by drilling for a resource that we know isn’t renewable and that is actively harming our planet,” she said. “We already have momentum towards a renewable energy future, and we should be continuing to shift towards greener energy.”

During her speech, Prufer also expressed concern that ExxonMobil aims to restart three oil rigs off the coast of Santa Barbara. 

“They want to revive the threat of another catastrophic oil spill on our coast and in order to restart these platforms, they want to truck up to 70 truckloads of oil per day on California’s coast,” she said. “They want to do this for several years while they wait for Plains, the company that spilled in the first place, to rebuild that dirty pipeline.”

Due to California’s position as one of the leading states in environmentalism, Kerr-Stein stressed the importance of Californians taking action for environmental justice. 

“California is a really big player in just what other states do,” Kerr-Stein said. “One state tries something out, everyone sees that and they’re like, ‘Oh, it works for them.’ And then more states adopt it.”

Prufer said she encouraged students to spread the word on social media, reach out to Gov. Newsom and urge the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors to prevent offshore oil drilling in Santa Barbara. 

Jagger added that she believes students “need to act quickly” to help prevent any further damage from climate change. 

“We’re already seeing the effects of climate change in fires raging across the Amazon, the Arctic, central Africa and Australia. We’re seeing continually shrinking sea ice and we’re also seeing intensifying weather events like Hurricane Dorian, which was the most powerful hurricane to ever hit the Bahamas,” Jagger said.