Every so often, an event captures the attention of an entire nation. Whether terrible or celebratory, these rare moments can impact the way we view the world and have the potential to affect significant change. The 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill was one such event.
On the morning of January 28, 1969, while the Union Oil crew on Platform A was retrieving a drill pipe from the bottom of an oil well five miles offshore from Summerland, something went terribly wrong: the well blew out. Thus began one of the largest environmental disasters in U.S. history. By the time it was over, more than three million gallons of oil were released, fouling 35 miles of coastline, killing as many as 15,000 seabirds, and poisoning dolphins, seals, and sea lions.
The devastating images and painfully slow recovery led to the passage of some of our most important and enduring environmental laws at the state and federal levels – laws including the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and the California Coastal Act. Community leaders in Santa Barbara realized that in order for the promise of these new laws to be fulfilled, there needed to be an organization on the ground, utilizing these new tools to ensure nothing like this could ever happen again here. In 1977, the doors were opened at the Environmental Defense Center (EDC), providing the people of the south central coast an environmental watchdog, an advocate, and a legal voice to counter the power of oil companies and other corporate polluters.
Since that time, EDC has represented nearly 140 different nonprofit organizations, retiring 40 offshore oil leases, stopping multiple efforts to import liquefied natural gas, and permanently preserving more than 100,000 acres of open space. Working from the historic Cordero Adobe building which we own in downtown Santa Barbara, EDC continues to this day as a vital community resource. We advocate for policies which protect our environment and human health and through expert legal representation of our clients. Over the years, our growing awareness of the impacts of climate disruption has reinforced the important role that EDC plays by standing up for our environment, our communities, and future generations.
Learn more about EDC’s current work and explore some of our most significant victories for the local environment and the public interest.