Pumping Oil After 40 Years Standard
Gasoline Co photo of Huntington Beach
Oil processing plant #8, January 1930. Huntington Beach, Calif.― "Oil City" A few days ago I stood in a spot where,
off my left shoulder, no fewer than 20
wells were slowly pumping oil. To my
right, two derricks were doing the same
less than 2 miles from the coast.
I wasn't visiting the Middle East or
Mexico. This was less than a mile from
Main Street in Huntington Beach, Calif.
As gasoline prices continue to soar,
offshore exploration is an increasingly
attractive option to North Carolinians,
a point not missed by incumbents up for
re-election. U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick and
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole have recently
sponsored legislation that would open up
North Carolina's coast to drilling if
the state approves.
Environmentalists vehemently oppose
these bills, but then, they oppose just
about everything. The more politically
potent opposition comes from the coastal
tourism and real estate industries,
which fear offshore exploration would
kill business, even though it would be
farther from shore than it is in
If those fears were valid, Huntington
Beach would be a ghost town.
The day I visited, the beach was full by
noon, including the strip right in front
of Emma and Ella, the names locals have
given to the two oil derricks clearly in
sight of sunbathers and surfers. Ken
Gordon brought August, age 7, and Haven,
3, for an outing of boogie boarding and
sand castle construction. Gordon wasn't
concerned about exposing his children to
impending ecological disaster.
"Look at the record. These [oil
derricks] have been here 30, 40 years
with little problems. The beaches are
clean here. We've never had a spill,
except one that was caused by a tanker"
(that ran over its anchor), Gordon told
me. "At some point the issue boils down
to how much do you want to depend on
foreign countries for oil? We'd be
paying $6 a gallon [for gas] if we
didn't have offshore drilling."
Outside of paying higher prices at the
pump, Gordon's stake in offshore
drilling is purely recreational. Jack
Clapp's livelihood is dependent on a
clean, alluring coast. The 72-year-old
runs "Dwight's," a combination
beachfront fast food stand, bike rental
service and gift shop. His father
started the family-run business in 1932.
"I'm not so sure that putting another
couple of wells out there [in the
Pacific] or scattering them along the
coast would stop people from coming
here," Clapp said. "This beach is
described as pristine, but you have oil
wells, and that's been accepted. If more
wells were brought in, I think the
acceptance would still be there."
During our conversation, Clapp had to
talk louder to be heard above the
growing din of people streaming to the
ocean. Some carried surfboards.
Among the surfers was Gary Johnson, a
fit man who has shared the water with
Emma and Ella for 45 years. In the
1960s, seepage was a problem, he said.
But since the '70s Huntington Beach
surfing has been oil free, save the
tanker spill. Still, Johnson opposes
more domestic offshore exploration.
"We need to find other solutions to
global oil prices other than putting up
more of these things," he said pointing
to the derricks. "They're ugly. There
are $2, $3, $4 million homes being built
along the ridge, and I don't think they
[property owners] want to look out and
see oil structures."
Johnson has a point. One owner whose
ocean-view home directly overlooks an
oil field told me he preferred a bay
view. He also admitted the lack of it
didn't prevent him from building some
pretty fancy digs.
Nothing has. Living literally next to
well-landscaped or disguised oil wells
hasn't slowed property values.
Huntington Beach real estate veteran
Natalie Kotsch has some advice for her
North Carolina coastal colleagues should
offshore energy exploration become
"Don't be afraid. It won't hurt property
values," Kotsch said. "There are so many
mitigation measures that the economic
benefits of natural gas and oil
[exploration] off your coast are
probably very worthwhile."
To those who doubt her assessment,
Kotsch issues this challenge: "Come by
for a visit, and I'll prove it."
If you plan to take Kotsch up on her
invitation, my advice is to do it
quickly. Huntington Beach accommodations
are very hard to come by this time of