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Gulf oil spill could have same political fallout as Santa Barbara spill

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While crews try to contain the damage caused by a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, some Californians predict the political damage to offshore oil drilling is only beginning. The political fallout from a spill 42 years ago is still strong in the Golden State.

If you ask Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, offshore oil drilling means one thing to Californians: the 1969 blowout of a Union Oil well that covered miles of pristine coastline with oil.

She says Santa Barbara was a seminal moment for us.

Within days of the spill, an environmental group calling itself GOO – Get Oil Out – gathered more than 100,000 signatures demanding an end to offshore drilling. California voters passed an initiative creating the California Coastal Commission.

Washington caught up in 1981, passing a moratorium on offshore drilling off the west coast. It has since expired and Feinstein wants to make the ban permanent.

She predicts the spill in the Gulf will mobilize not just Californians. "I think that you can’t stop a leak once it starts, that you’re able to dig deeper than anybody has ever dug, that you can’t even send a submarine down there indicates that maybe that shouldn’t be done."

One Californian who changed his mind about offshore drilling after the Gulf spill is Arnold Schwarzenegger. The governor had proposed expanding drilling off the Santa Barbara coast to help balance the state budget. The governor now says it's too risky.