“Tonight the permanent seal of the oil spill is underway,” Diane Sawyer told her ABC World News Tonight audience this week. While the “relief well” won’t be drilled until later this month, Sawyer – and most other media commentators – couldn’t hold back gushers of optimism that the “final fix” (as Sawyer’s writers put it) of the BP oil spill was at hand.
The desire for good news is understandable, since what was left of BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig had been pouring out nothing but bad news – and about 5 million barrels of crude oil – into the Gulf of Mexico since it blew up on April 21.
For many Californians, the BP disaster stirred memories of Union Oil’s Santa Barbara oil spill in January 1969. That disaster ended a decade of feverish construction of drilling rigs in the Santa Barbara channel and led to historic responses by the federal government to protect the environment.
So far, the Gulf oil spill has resulted in nothing approaching the response to the Santa Barbara spill, even though the BP crude oil spill is 50 times greater.
The Santa Barbara spill, which occurred at the height of the Vietnam War, spawned:
The national environmental movement, signaled by the first Earth Day in April 1970
The National Environmental Policy Act, instituting a federal role in environmental protection
Creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, in 1970
Passage of the first federal Clean Waters Act in 1972
The president at the time? Republican Richard Nixon.