UCSB Community Holds Rally in Response to Oil Spill


On Tuesday, May 19th, a pipeline owned by Plains All American carrying Exxon’s oil ruptured, spilling over 100,000 gallons of oil, 21,000 of which made its way into the sea.  Plains All American stated that they are “pleased with [their] safety record.”

Thursday, May 28th, the UCSB community rallied outside of the university’s administrative building–Cheadle Hall–calling out the University of California for its investments in the fossil fuel industry and having financed last Tuesday’s oil spill.

The rally began with a press conference. A Master’s student, Theo LeQuesne, called out to the crowd. “To protect our society, environment, and economy, we must stop the source of these tragedies–the fossil fuel industry.”

After the press conference, students participated in street theater featuring UC Regents paying Exxon executives to dumping “oil” on students, representing the universities active investment practices and their impact on their environment and students.

“We are here to share in our anger and sadness”, called out 1st year Abi Pastrana during the mic check. “But we must channel this in positive directions.”

Miranda O’Mahony, a 1st year student, called out to the crowd, “This spill was not an isolated incident. it is just one more preventable yet inevitable instance of the fossil fuel industry’s disregard for communities and the environment.” Oil spills–and other accidents related to the fossil fuel industry–happen happen all the time, primarily in areas with communities of color. We cannot discuss the fossil fuel industry’s environmental impacts and ignore the inherent environmental racism it perpetuates.

O’Mahony said, “While Plains All American is liable, Exxon it culpable. Without Exxon’s offshore drilling, there wouldn’t be a pipeline in the first place.” Exxon Mobil contracted out Plains All American–a company with a track record of spills and violations–to transport its crude oil from Exxon’s storage tanks to a pump station in Gaviota.

The students marched from Cheadle Hall to the Multi-Cultural Center, chanting and carrying the pipeline. Student onlookers met the demonstrators with cheers joined in chanting “UC Regents lead the way, divest our UC today” and “We are unstoppable, another world is possible.”

The University of California currently invests its endowment in Exxon Mobil–alongside many other coal, oil, and gas companies. Emily Williams, Campaign Director with the California Student Sustainability Coalition, and alum of UCSB, said “By consciously investing in these companies, the university is willingly profiting off of the practices and ecological, societal, and climatological impacts of the company.”

In addition to funding one of the worst perpetrators of social injustice and environmental degradation, the university blatantly demonstrates that it places its profit margins above it students. As administration decides to support the biggest climate drivers, administration is actively condemning its students to facing the worst impacts of climate change

“It’s really very simple,” said Pastrana, “We’re calling on our university to start investing in students, not in spills.”

This industry not only disproportionately impacts communities of color, but also youth and future generations. The Climate Vulnerability Monitor estimates that today 400,000 people die per year from climate change-induced disasters. That number will skyrocket when today’s youth and future generations take office.

This spill is just one example, in a sea of disasters, of the ecological and social impacts of the extractive fossil fuel economy.

We know what the alternatives are to fossil fuels–increased investment in and production of renewable energy that is community owned and operated. We also know that the fossil fuel industry will not lead the renewable and just revolution. Big oil in the last decade collectively invested $9 billion in renewable energy development, compared to the $341 billion they spent in the same period on tar sands extraction. Comparing those figures to the $257 billion that was invested globally in 2011 in renewables, $9 billion is barely a drop in the ocean.

 Photo Credit: Miranda O’Mahony

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