Huntington Beach Oil Spill: Local Elected Leaders Renew Calls For Ban Of Offshore Drilling

By City News Service, KCBS/KCAL TV Los Angeles, CA

October 4, 2021

SANTA ANA (CBSLA) – Rep. Mike Levin, D-Dana Point, ramped up his calls Monday to ban offshore drilling in light of the oil spill in Huntington Beach.

“Obviously, I’m quite concerned for my constituents and beaches,” Levin said. “My belief is we need to end all offshore drilling and phase out existing offshore drilling.”

Levin has introduced legislation to do just that, and similar language is included in the Biden administration’s Build Back Better infrastructure bill.

“On page 984 is our language that would ban new drilling off the California coast and other parts of the country as well,” Levin said.

Levin recalled meeting with former Interior Secretary David Bernhardt on the issue during the Trump administration.

“I said, What assurance can you give me that you’ll respect the will of the overwhelming majority of people along the Southern California coast?”‘ Levin said. “This is truly a non-partisan consensus. We need to end off-shore drilling. But he said, `I will not give you any assurance.’ And as we all know they were actively trying to see if they could increase the amount of drilling.”

While the Biden administration is supportive of the efforts to ease up on off-shore drilling, Levin said, it needs to be written into law. Levin said off-shore drilling makes no sense in Southern California.

“There’s no reason we should be doing off-shore drilling when so much of our economy is dependent on tourism,” Levin said. “Think of all the small businesses impacted by this as well because our beaches will be closed for weeks. This is a huge hit to our local economy, unfortunately.”

He has an ally in Sen. Alex Padilla, D-California, who is a member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

“We’ve seen time and time again how damaging offshore oil spills are to our coastal ecosystems as well as to our economy,” Padilla said in a statement. “This is yet another preventable environmental catastrophe that threatens to cause years of environmental harms to critical marine and wetland ecosystems and major economic hardships for local communities. My office is closely monitoring the containment and cleanup efforts, and I will do everything I can to ensure Orange County receives the assistance it needs.”

Padilla added, “We have the power to prevent future spills. That’s why I’m committed to ending offshore oil drilling. As Congress prepares sweeping new infrastructure and climate legislation to address our nation’s needs, the message is clear: we must act urgently to end our use of dangerous fossil fuels. I urge my colleagues to move quickly to pass the West Coast Ocean Protection Act and prevent yet another unnecessary environmental tragedy.”

Padilla is a co-sponsor of the West Coast Ocean Protection Act, which would ban oil and gas drilling off the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, also spoke in favor of ending off- shore drilling.

Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, who chairs the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, called for a “multi- agency Biden administration investigation” into the oil spill. Lowenthal is planning to hold a hearing about the leak and the mop-up effort.

“It is absolutely critical that we determine the cause of this spill and determine what steps Congress can take to prevent such spills in the future,” Lowenthal said in a statement. “For far too long, the offshore drilling industry has hidden behind adhering to the bare minimum of safety measures — prioritizing profits over safety, public health and environmental protection. This has to end.”

Lowenthal said it was important that “those responsible for this spill are held accountable and made to pay for the environmental disasters they have caused — not the U.S. taxpayers. The oil industry frequently shifts the costs of cleaning up their messes, either in the midst of a disaster or when they simply walk way, to the taxpayer. This too must end.”

Lowenthal said that “offshore fossil fuel production in federal waters presents one of the highest risks to the public and our environment and must be one of the first sources that are completely phased out. Congress must take steps to make this happen as soon as possible to prevent these recurring ecological disasters, including passing the West Coast Ocean Protection Act to permanently ban oil and gas drilling in federal waters off the coast of California, Oregon and Washington.”

Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said the leak doesn’t just have “an impact on tourism, but an impact on sea life and water fowl.”

She said some business leaders believe that off-shore oil drilling can keep down the price of gas, but, she added, “How do we balance the environment versus business interests? I understand all sides of the equation, and so very difficult decisions have to be made.”

Activists with Consumer Watchdog and FracTracker Alliance issued a statement Monday calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom to stop issuing oil permits in state waters.

“This current spill makes it clear like never before that there is no such thing as safe proximity to oil drilling,” said Liza Tucker of Consumer Watchdog. “Gov. Newsom must stop issuing both offshore and onshore permits immediately and set a barrier of 2,500 feet between vulnerable communities and oil operations if his own oil and gas supervisor won’t.”

One of the largest oil spills in recent Southern California history likely originated from a pipeline leak and made its way to Huntington Beach Sunday and Monday — claiming the lives of fish, birds and other ocean wildlife — spurring a coastline closure, and prompting the cancelation of the third day of the Pacific Airshow.

According to authorities, 126,000 gallons of oil leaked from the offshore oil rig Elly on Saturday and started washing ashore in Orange County and into the coastal waters. The spill was likely caused by a pipeline leak from a facility operated by Beta Offshore about five miles off the coast, officials said.

The oil slick was impacting almost six miles from the Huntington Beach pier to the Balboa pier, and has resulted in the closure of the beach from the Santa Ana River jetty to the Huntington Beach Pier. Health officials warned people not to swim, surf or exercise by the beach because of the potential health hazards. People were also urged not to fish in the area since the waters are considered toxic.

A California Department of Fish and Wildlife official said in a news conference Monday that the agency’s teams have so far collected and treated four birds that were “oiled” due to the massive spill in Orange County, and one of them, a brown pelican, had to be euthanized due to “chronic injuries.”

“We’re aware that oil has hit the beach here in Huntington Beach and it also appears that oil has infiltrated the Talbert Marsh,” Carr said.Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr described the situation as a “potential ecologic disaster,” and said some of the oil had reached the shore and was impacting the Talbert Marshlands and the Santa Ana River Trail.

Oil also began to wash ashore in Newport Beach on Sunday, where officials were asking people not to enter the water, although they hadn’t officially closed the ocean. The city of Laguna Beach also closed its beaches to the public effective 9 p.m. Sunday.

Fourteen boats conducted oil recovery operations Sunday. Three Coast Guard boats enforced a safety zone off 1,000 yards around oil spill boats. Four aircraft were dispatched for overflight assessments. The shoreside response was conducted by 105 government agency personnel.

The rig started to leak Friday and was reported by lifeguards who indicated that they smelled significant oil odors in the area. Crews remained onsite overnight Sunday trying to assist with the clean-up, as dead birds and fish coated in oil started to wash ashore.About 3,150 gallons of oil has so far been recovered from the water and 5,360 feet of boom has been deployed to control the spread of the oil.

O.C. Supervisor Katrina Foley said Sunday said the pipeline was still believed to be leaking.

The spill occurred in federal waters at the Elly platform, built in 1980 to process crude oil from two other platforms, which draw from a large reservoir called Beta Field. Houston-based Amplify Energy Corp. is the parent company of Beta Offshore.

Elly is one of three platforms operated by Beta Operating Co., which also operates Ellen and Eureka nearby. Elly processes oil production from Ellen and Eureka and is fed by some 70 oil wells. The processing platform separates oil from water. Elly is one of 23 oil and gas platforms installed in federal waters off the Southern California coast, according to the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Besides Elly, a processing facility, there are 20 others that produce oil and gas, and two are being decommissioned.

Skimming equipment and booms were deployed to prevent the inflow of oil into the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve and Huntington Beach Wetlands, although officials said wildlife was already affected. Foley said said Sunday she has been told by Huntington Beach that the wildlife in the Talbert Wetlands has been “dramatically impacted.”

“Wildlife is dying,” Foley said. “It’s very sad. We do have reports of dead animals along the shore, washing up upon the shore at the Huntington Beach State beach area as well as wildlife within the Marsh and wetlands is dying.”

The final day of the Pacific Airshow was also canceled by the spill Sunday.

“The airshow was canceled,” Foley said. “That’s unfortunate. I was planning to go and I am disappointed just like all the 1.5 million other people that were planning to go today but we just can’t have the airshow going on and I know the organizers were very cooperative. They know that it is hard to do the cleanup with all the people.”

“This oil spill is a tragic reminder that offshore drilling is a devastating threat to our coast and its wildlife,” said Miyoko Sakashita, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Oceans program. “I’ve seen the aging oil platforms off Huntington Beach up close, and I know it’s past time to decommission these time bombs. Even after fines and criminal charges, the oil industry is still spilling and leaking into California’s coastal waters because these companies just aren’t capable of operating safely. The only solution is to shut this dirty business down.”

State wildlife officials said at least one soiled ruddy duck was receiving medical care, while local wildlife rescue groups were mobilizing to help.

“We have all our gear out, which includes masks, goggles for our staff,” Debbie McGuire, director of the Wetlands & Wildlife Center in Huntington Beach, told the Orange County Register. “We also have IV fluids ready to stabilize the animals.” The center received at least five birds from the spill Sunday, she said.

The Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach was also making its staff and facility available if needed.

Laguna Beach officials closed all beaches in the city effective 9 p.m. Sunday due to the oil spill.

Long Beach officials said their beaches and swimming areas were not affected by the spill, since currents were pulling south from Huntington Beach.

The spill was reminiscent of another ecological disaster decades ago. An estimated 3,400 birds were killed when the American Trader oil tanker ran over its anchor and punctured its hull on Feb. 7, 1990, spilling an estimated 416,600 gallons of crude oil off the coast of Huntington Beach.

As a result of the spill, the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center was established March 31, 1998 at 21900 Pacific Coast Highway to help injured and orphaned wildlife including oil-soiled birds, according to the DFW. A makeshift facility at that site treated birds injured in the 1990 spill, according to the center’s website.

The cause of the leak is being investigated. In the meantime, the public was urged to report any impacted wildlife by calling 1-877-823-6826. People wishing to assist with cleanup or wildlife recovery efforts were asked to visit the Surfrider Foundation and HB Wetlands & Wildlife websites.