Offshore fracking would offend our Chumash ancestors. The outrageous proposal to extract more oil from under Santa Barbara Channel by injecting high-pressure water and toxic chemicals to fracture the earth would baffle and sadden them.
Frankly, it baffles and saddens me, even with my modern understanding of the fossil-fuel industry. That the federal government would approve this practice without the detailed environment studies the law requires is a sign that society has forgotten some fundamental truths.
Water is the basis of life, sustaining everything. Poisoning it poisons life itself. Polluting the water for resources that will in turn pollute the air forms a vicious and reckless cycle that shows just how far we’ve strayed from our roots.
This beautiful coastline is where our Chumash culture and people have thrived for more than 15,000 years, and is still one of the most biologically rich places on the planet. How can we let oil companies with platforms in the Santa Barbara Channel dump their toxic fracking waste here?
But that’s what the Trump administration’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management are now considering. After agreeing to a moratorium on offshore fracking in federal waters off California last year until its environmental impacts could be properly studied, the agencies now seem poised to green-light fracking without considering its numerous dangers.
Long before science taught us that carbon dioxide emissions from the excessive burning of fossil fuels are changing the climate, the Chumash people have always known it is important to live in harmony with the natural world. Consumerist culture has obscured that lifeway.
Extracting the lifeblood of Mother Earth is not the only option — renewable energy is available in the form of wind, water and sun. Fracturing the integrity of the planet is a desecration. Today’s convenience-driven culture has lost its reverence for nature, but deeply rooted cultures like ours can remind people to follow through on our neglected responsibilities.
We power modern society and its gadgets with oil, relying on fracking and other technological fixes to keep it flowing. We are addicted to the technological fix. Oil is an addiction, and fracking is yet another crude, desperate way for us oil junkies to feed this dependency.
But the ugly cycle can be broken right here and now, starting along California’s coast. Numerous studies show that fracking chemicals can harm or kill sea otters, fish and other wildlife. These species have great cultural importance to our People, including our closest ocean relations, Alulkoy (dolphins), as well as swordfish, whales, otters, abalone, kelp and pelicans.
The federal government is turning a blind eye to fossil-fuel companies that are not subjected to thorough investigation and, as a result, violating its mandate to protect public interests. Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation is a Native-led environmental nonprofit, and we are now in court to ensure that these agencies uphold their obligations.
The Trump administration, however, recently filed a motion to dismiss the case rather than addressing or remedying issues of insufficient research, lack of transparency and inadequate regulations. We’re now preparing our response, which is due next month, and we’ll be back in federal district court on June 12th to defend our coastline.
I want to see humanity awaken to the basic reality that we can choose a different path. We must prioritize indigenous wisdom and let it guide our decisions. The government and the oil industry are essentially in business together, but it’s “we the people” — the coming together of the human family — who must help guide the decisions that determine what kind of world we live in.
What would my ancestors think if they stood on the shoreline and saw today’s offshore drilling platforms? Would they tolerate the confounding belief that we must pollute our water and air in order to achieve progress? I don’t think they would — and neither will I.
Like our Chumash ancestors, modern Chumash are practitioners of nature, and we cannot sacrifice the health of the waters that sustain us for society’s excessive addiction to oil. The future cannot fight for itself — that’s a responsibility that falls to us today — so we must be the protectors of generations to come.
Executive Director of Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation Mati Waiya is a lifelong Ventura County resident, a Chumash ceremonial elder and a member of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Board of Directors.