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A response to 'Remnants of offshore oil disaster' 

In the Feb. 16 issue, a writer decried tar balls on the beaches around Santa Barbara, but misunderstands their origin. These (and those we get on SLO beaches) are from natural oil seeps that were leaking long before Europeans arrived. Early Spaniards used natural rafts of beach brea to waterproof their roofs, and Anglos mined the stuff to pave roads.

The most active seeps are around Coal Oil Point off UCSB. They leak about twice as much hydrocarbon pollution as all the cars in Santa Barbara County and contribute to a persistent air-quality problem there. Lompoc has the same problem.

If these oil and gas fields were pumped, reservoir pressures would be lowered, and leakages could decrease and eventually stop. Plus, people would get jobs, and governments would get taxes. Wins all around!

Wikipedia has the details. Readers might enjoy the videos and photos at “Asphalt volcano” about the strange tar extrusions off Coal Oil Point, with sea creatures growing right on top of them. Petroleum is food to many sea microbes, and they quickly eat any spills.

-- Peter D. Tillman - retired geologist-geochemist, Cambria

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