Turn off the Spigot
Many people know California for the bright and shiny things: gold, Hollywood dresses, computer chips.While driving along its state highways, Maya Weeks traces her memories of a different California: one of oil refineries, landfills, and family feuds.
Every time I drive between Oakland and my hometown in San Luis Obispo County, California, I pass a drilling site outside of San Ardo on US Route 101. Although many drilling sites are right alongside public roads, the infrastructure is designed to prevent people from stopping and looking at where oil is drawn out of reserves. But if you stop and look, you can see oil rigs pumping, numbered tanks for storing crude oil, roads carved in the ground for trucks to traverse the sites, and more.
On one of my now-countless moves back, I stop to take some pictures. It’s overcast, raining slightly. This year California has flipped from drought to flooding. It’s greener than I’ve ever seen it, and there’s water in the Salinas river, which, during rainy years, drains to the Monterey Bay. Oil on trains moves to the ocean. Commodities travel to land. Even on land that looks strictly agricultural, it’s pretty easy to tell where the petroleum industry is situated. There are red flags and yellow pipes and tan paint marking the sites of extraction. Even though I don’t really know what I’m looking at, in Kings County, oil and water are reconstituted in the form of agriculture and fertilizer everywhere. There is oil and water in the almond trees starting to blossom in the late winter and in the scents in the air.