The United States Coast Guard recently published a photograph of more than 3 dozen oil tankers parked along California’s coastline.  The photograph is just another visualization of the impact the COVID-19 lockdown over the past 2 months has created.  

Under normal circumstances, California’s daily appetite for 43 million gallons of gasoline, 13 million gallons of diesel and 10 million gallons of jet fuel are hardly noticed.  Until now, we also barely paid any attention to the massive amounts of foreign oil we need to fill that daily need.  

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  In this case, the picture is a stark reminder of just how dependent California has become on foreign oil.  At the expense of thousands of local jobs, at the expense of billions of dollars annually, in direct jobs and direct state taxes – what California consumes today in foreign oil is a double whammy, as we are also exporting wealth that benefits not a single California job or taxpayer.  

But this wasn’t always the case.  Consider a comparison between 2000 and 2019:

  • California Oil Production
    • In 2000, California produced 271 million barrels of oil.
    • In 2019, California produced 161 million barrels of oil.
    • Today, 40% less oil is produced in California.
  • California Oil Imports
    • In 2019, 58.4% of California’s oil came from foreign sources
    • In, 2000, 25.5% of California’s oil came from foreign sources
    • Since 2000, California has more than doubled the amount of oil it takes from foreign countries.

According to data experts at Kpler, there are nearly 20 million barrels of crude oil on board the tankers off the California coastline.  With dramatically fewer cars on the road and planes in the sky, there is a limited need for gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel.  That has caused a glut in the market and a shortage of onshore storage.

Keeping oil on tankers is not optimal.  Not only is it expensive, but there is always the environmental threat of that much crude floating offshore.  The United States Coast Guard announced this month that they are monitoring the increasing number of large vessels around the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to make sure there are no collisions or groundings, and to see if the tankers are discharging oil or sewage into our oceans.  According to Oceana, cargo ships create more than 3 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions.  The ships idling off the California coastline only add to the overall carbon footprint created by cargo ships.

The bigger concern is that the longer the COVID-19 lockdown orders remain in place, the longer those ships will remain offshore with nowhere to go – and as of the most recent information – they could remain parked there with possibly more showing up, through at least July 2020 if not longer.  

According to information from the Los Angeles and Long Beach harbor, there are 48 designated places to anchor ships at Los Angeles and Long Beach harbors.   Some arriving vessels are having to navigate around the idled tankers.

As reported by the Los Angeles Times, the tankers have no place to offload the crude, which is going unused as closures of businesses and restrictions on travel – meant to slow the spread of the virus –continue to cause a plunge in demand for oil.   The American Petroleum Institute added that “the supply chain is being backed up, and tankers are now being used to store product that would have originally gone out to the supply chain.” 

Is there an alternative to this potentially growing dangerous situation?  If production of domestic oil in California were returned just to the 2000 levels, none of these vessels would be parked off California’s shoreline.  None.  Moreover, it would be preferable to use local energy, creating both traditional and renewable energy jobs here at home and avoiding imports from countries with abhorrent human rights violations. 

Unless that happens, California will continue to export jobs, wealth and environmental control.