BLACK TIDE by Robert Easton


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The second and better account of the January 1969 Santa Barbara Channel oil spill and its aftermath -- Lee Dye's Blowout at Platform A (1971), which was a holier-than-thou muckrake, being the earlier one. Easton, whose ecological roots go back to his grandfather, Warren Olney, a founder of the Sierra Club, is a writer (biography, fiction, natural history) and a native Santa Barbaran; not surprisingly, then, his quite readable book is pro-environmentalist and anti-oil company, and stresses local response to the disaster (detailing, for example, the unremitting efforts of the spontaneous citizens' group Get Oil Out -- or GOO). Between January 28 and February 7, over two million gallons of oil gushed into the Channel when Well A-21 blew, an event which eventually killed untold numbers of birds and marine life, blackened the petroleum industry's public image and cost it millions in additional expenses and lost income, transformed the complacent resort community of Santa Barbara ""into the militant spearhead of a national movement,"" radicalized some business-oriented Republican congressmen on the ecology question, and immeasurably aided the conservation consciousness-lifting process which was then fresh and unrecycled (as Easton puts it, ""The environmental revolution thrived on Platform A oil""). There is an unusually adept blend of personalities, statistics, politics, idealism, issues, and crisp understanding in Easton's story of outrageous contamination; he makes no attempt to hide his dismay at the companies' greed or the government's gingerly approach to the problem (despite convert Hickel's best efforts) but this is balanced with an appreciation for the complexities and exigencies involved -- ""Ambivalence characterized all facets of the oil spill,"" the people generating a customer demand for oil while condemning the industry for meeting it -- both Washington and Sacramento caught between countervailing exploitation and protection urges, etc. Easton avoids the kneejerk reductionism so characteristic of pollution case histories -- a noteworthy accomplishment.

Pub Date: June 5th, 1972
Publisher: Delacorte