The following is an excerpt from a work-in-progress called The Town I Live In.
In 1969, there was an oil spill in Santa Barbara that killed thousands of sea birds, dolphins, seals, and fish. When asked about it in a 1975 interview, Archer W. Kammerer (who owned an oil drilling company) said that the oil spill was “overplayed.”
“I look at spillage as a temporary thing that is harmful probably to some animal life and to the esthetics at the moment, and that is all,” Kammerer said, “It is not a serious matter...I get thoroughly disgusted every time I hear on the boob tube some jerk yapping about Santa Barbara and ecology and all the damage and all...I am sure that will never happen again.”
I wish I could say that Kammerer was right, but he was not. The following year, December 15, 1976, the Argo Merchant vessel broke apart and spilled its entire cargo of 7.7 million gallons of No. 6 fuel oil, causing a slick 100 miles long and 60 miles wide. There have been oil spills nearly every other year since 1967, the most recent of which was the tragic BP oil spill, which pumped millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
Kammerer’s dismissal of oil spills as “not a serious matter” was a mindset shared by Hubert C. Ferry, who worked for Union Oil. He called the Santa Barbara incident a “leak” and not a “spill.” Regarding the public outcry following the Santa Barbara spill, Ferry said, “They put up a tremendous ‘hue and cry’ about a handful of ducks and mudhens that were killed.”
One might dismiss Ferry as an “old fool,” but this old fool had a lot of political clout. In 1945 he was chairman of the legislative committee of the California Association of Production Industries, and “spent the entire 1947 session of the legislature in Sacramento on this matter.” He was also on the Orange County Planning Commission, the Advisory Committee of the Los Angeles County Air Pollution District, the Advisory Committee of the State Board of Health, Chairman of the Citizens Advisory Committee to the Orange County Transit District, and Chairman of the Committee that financed the building of the current City Hall in Fullerton.
There is a serious conflict of interest if oil companies are allowed to influence the legislature, and I know for a fact that this shady business is still going on.
“Oil spills are rare and not that big of a deal,” they say, stuffing money in lawmakers’ pockets. Meanwhile, millions of wildlife die and the world becomes more polluted. What if we boycotted big oil by not driving our cars? I have survived without a car for over six months now. These companies do not have hearts. If all they listen to is money, maybe we should stop putting more of it in their pockets.