By Anita Guerrini

Aerial view of the 1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill

President Obama’s June 15 speech about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill outlined government actions to deal with the immediate crisis, and also, though less precisely, outlined a new energy policy. We have been here before – in 1969.

From the air, the Santa Barbara Channel platform looked “like the metal handle of a dagger that had stabbed the world and made it spill black blood.” Thus did the writer Ross Macdonald describe his first view of that oil spill. On Jan. 28, a little more than a week after Richard Nixon’s inauguration, Union Oil’s Platform Alpha experienced a catastrophic blowout. Although the well itself was capped within a few weeks, oil continued to seep through cracks in the ocean floor for several more months. By May, nearly 100 miles of California coastline and 800 square miles of ocean had been contaminated by 3 million gallons of oil. The evening news and Life magazine showed images of oil-soaked birds and blackened beaches. (read more at

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