Every time there’s an oil spill, as occurred last week in Santa Barbara, I recall Sarah Palin on the 2008 campaign trail in her ill-fated run for the vice-presidency. She relished in revving up audiences with her signature “Drill, baby, drill” chant mocking President Obama’s environmental agenda in her sarcastic, shrill voice. (Instead of waterboarding we should have made terrorism suspects listen to hour after hour of Sarah?)

But in her defense, back in 2008, she was being bombarded with brutal questions by the media. Like when Katie Couric callously asked her what magazines and newspapers she read. Poor Sarah was stumped. Her only answer was a pathetic, “All of them.”

Even right-winger Glenn Beck cheap-shotted her by asking which of the founding fathers was her favorite. Poor Sarah. Once again she answered, “All of them.” But when Charlie Gibson asked her to define the “Bush doctrine,” she didn’t get the answer right, but at least she didn’t say “all of them.” That was progress. Sorta.

Also “once again” are oil spills in Santa Barbara. The 1969 spill was the largest in U.S. waters at the time and currently ranks third after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf Coast and the 1989 Exxon Valdez in Alaska. Over a ten-day period, the ’69 spill released approximately 100,000 barrels of crude. Last week’s spill, known as the Refugio Oil Spill, occurring just north of Refugio State Beach, involved 105,000 U.S. gallons, or 2,500 barrels of crude that spilled into the ocean.

Despite last week’s spill being much smaller in scale, environmentalists predictmore severe consequences on the coastal ecosystem are likely than with the 1969 spill. The Refugio spill spread along seven miles of the coastline from Arroyo Hondo Creek to El Capitan State Beach. It affected the Gaviota coast, with its Mediterranean climate considered unique for its biodiversity and thus greater potential environmental damage.

The Santa Barbara Channel offers habitat to porpoises, dolphins, seals and sea lions, in addition to serving as a migratory passage for blue and humpback whales and a range of birds. Towering underwater kelp forests are home to a diverse community of fish and benthic invertebrates. All endangered because of the spill.

And more bad news. Large animals can become smothered with oil and die from toxic exposure. Tides will disperse the oil, and hot California days may cause some of it to sink to the seafloor, seeping into sediments and reefs. Just terrific.

According to the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management, the spill was caused by a buried Texas-based Oil company, “Plains All American,” pipeline that ruptured, which spewed approximately 105,000 gallons of crude down a storm drain and into an undeveloped stretch of coastline just north of Santa Barbara. Roughly a fifth of that oil made its way into open water.

Plains All-American CEO, Greg Armstrong, flew to Santa Barbara and issued this statement, ” We apologize for the damage that is done to the wildlife and to the environment.” (In the Texas spirit, that was mighty big of him … not.) He also promised to pay for the entire cleanup but that, of course, won’t include the environmental damage.

The pipeline that leaked the thousands of gallons of oil was the only pipe of its kind in Santa Barbara County not required to have an automatic shut-off valve because of a court fight nearly three decades ago, a county official said.

The original owner of the pipeline skirted the county requirement by successfully arguing in court in the late 1980s that it should be subject to federal oversight because the pipeline is part of an interstate network, said Kevin Drude, deputy director of the county’s Energy and Minerals Division. Auto shut-off valves are not required by federal regulators. “It’s the only major pipeline that doesn’t have auto shut-off,” Drude said. “For us, it’s routine.”

Plains is reported to have a number of previous infractions. One of the company’s pipelines also spilled an estimated 10,000 gallons on streets near Los Angeles a year ago. An analysis by the L.A. Times also found that since 2006, Plains had infractions, such as equipment failures, at a rate of three times the national average. (What do you say about that, Mr. Armstrong?)

In 1976, Jimmy Carter installed solar panels on the White House roof. The very first thing Ronald Reagan did was to remove them. I have a feeling he would have loved Sarah Palin’s “drill baby, drill.”

As I close I’m reminded these columns are supposed to highlight the humorous side of life, but frankly I see nothing funny in another horrific oil spill. To Palin and her anti-environmentalist pals, I can only repeat what an exasperated Oliver Hardy used to say to Stan Laurel, “This is another fine mess you’ve gotten us into.”

To monitor the cleanup, Google “Refugio response info.” Only professionally trained volunteers are permitted, but if you see oiled wildlife please call 877-823-6926.

Jack Neworth can be reached at facebook.com/jackneworth and twitter.com/jackneworth and by email at jnsmdp@aol.com.

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