There’s a long stretch of absolutely magical beach real estate starting at San Simeon and ending just north of LA. It also happens to have some really interesting, difficult to manage geology. This is Pismo Beach, a beautiful little town, a bit touristy, a few too many weekly rental houses, but can’t beat the lovely beach. Pismo, you say, what does that mean? So it’s apparently one of the older place names in California, because it’s pre-European. Pismo means ‘Tar’ in the local Indian language. Tar beach. Lovely, right?
There is an enormous amount of oil in California. After taking a look at this lecture from Delft University on petroleum geology it’s easy to see why, what with that enormous subducting plate boundary up and down the coast, there’s huge regional pockets of oil. Pismo beach is one of them, with ‘tar springs’ in the nearby canyons, —places where crude just runs out of the rocks like a river— and who hasn’t heard of the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles which have yielded up such a wealth of archeological and biological material?
The thing about oil though is that it’s under some amount of pressure, meaning a lot of pressure. This is why you get things like oil springs and gushers and stuff, and it doesn’t stop on land. In the ocean off Santa Barbara, there’s an oil spill every day, with around 10,000 gallons of oil seeping up through natural fissures in the ocean floor right every 24 hours. Which means that every 10 days, enough oil seeps out to equal the famous 1969 Platform A blowout that forms such an iconic moment for Santa Barbara history.
So what’s the difference? The main reason that the natural seeps don’t cause the amount of environmental damage that an oil spill does looks like it’s a pretty obvious one: diffusion of the oil by spreading it out over a huge area rather than a concentrated one. If you decrease the pressure on the reservoir by pumping the oil out, that decreases the seeps too. But that’s not how modern oil production works, because the wells are re-pressurized by dumping all those industrial emission carbon credits down there as the wells are injected with carbon dioxide gas, or steam or other weird secret mixtures of sand and stuff. Here’s Santa Barbara’s County Planning guys discussing this in-depth in a very interesting paper:
It does appear that the environment there is getting better and better throughout the years though. No one would look at sparkling white Pismo Beach today and think to name it ‘Tar Beach’ like they did in 1891 when the town was established by John Michael Price. I’ve heard stories from California old-timers about visiting Pismo Beach in the 1940’s and 1950’s and remembering how you could walk along and leave little white footprints in your wake through the black sand. It’s a huge area to tackle an environmental cleanup of, and it’s a huge amount of time that it was accomplished over, more than a hundred years of trial and error, steps forward and steps backwards, balancing conflicting interests and goals and negotiating a way forward, technological innovations in hazard cleanup, responsibility by everyone involved…but Southern California’s beaches are pristine and beautiful because of an immense effort by generations of people. They should be proud of their accomplishments. (*eyeroll* oh boy they are, have you seen these Santa Barbarians?) Good job guys, keep up the good work.
Oh and incidentally Pismo Beach, in the grand tradition of Small California Towns has dubbed themselves the ‘Capital of the World’ for a bit of local produce. In this case the ‘Clam Capital of the World’.
So what could Eynhallow be, the Free-Range Mutton Sandwiches Capital of the World? (Xander is saying ‘Wireless Communication Capital of the World’)
Ah I've been to Pismo Beach in one of my visits to the USA and aah it's a pretty nice place, love the beach c;
The trivia is also really interesting - it sounds amazing that the area has recovered so much! Here's to a brighter and less polluted future! ^-^