Update on the Oil Spill (Updated Oct. 11)

October 10, 2021

Once again, we’re experiencing another huge oil spill off our California coast. It began in Huntington Beach on Friday evening, October 2, with tarballs being spotted as far south as Del Mar.

Portions of public beaches in Newport Beach and Huntington Beach are now open to surfers and swimmers, but cleanup crews are still there looking for signs of oil and tar.

San Diego County beaches remain open, but are being carefully monitored. Crews will begin combing eight North County beaches this week, looking for oil residue at Oceanside Pier, Carlsbad City Beach, South Ponto Beach, Batiquitos Lagoon, Encinitas, Cardiff, San Elijo Beach and Solana Beach. When tarballs are found, crews in protective gear will dispose of them.

Snares and booms are being placed at three North San Diego County lagoons, Agua Hedionda Lagoon in Carlsbad, San Elijo Lagoon in Cardiff, and San Dieguito Lagoon in Solana Beach. 

Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta said the California Department of Justice has launched an investigation into the spill. His office has not determined whether civil or criminal enforcement is proper at this time.

This sad event is the most recent example of how damaging offshore oil drilling can be to coastal ecosystems, wildlife, our economy and human recreation. It’s clear that we need oil-free beaches to protect our ecosystem and the economy that depends on it.

Make no mistake, this is a major ecological disaster – one that could have been prevented. The time to prevent the next one is now.

Members from the Orange County shoreline cleanup and assessment team dress in protective equipment before conducting oil spill cleanup operations along Corona Del Mar State Beach Park, California on Oct. 6. (Photos by Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Janessa Warschkow.)

Though crews are working feverishly to collect the spilled oil, immense damage to coastal resources has already occurred.

The longer the oil stays in the water, the more it spreads, causing even more damage to our coastal ecosystem. Our marshes and lagoons all along the coast are particularly susceptible to this harm.
 
The cause of the spill is still being investigated, but currently remains unsolved.

The pipeline that ruptured was over 40 years old, which may portend more potential spills due to its age. An anchor from a tanker ship was suspected of causing the leak recently, but attention has now turned to evidence that the aged pipe may have been hit and displaced by a boat anchor several months to a year ago, causing a small crack which gradually, increasingly leaked oil into the sea.

Crude oil is shown in the Pacific Ocean offshore of Orange County on Oct. 3. (Photo by Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Richard Brahm.)

The Los Angeles Times reports that 15 hours passed between the time the oil slick was spotted and when authorities were notified by the drilling company. According to the Times article, “when workers for the company operating the Elly drilling rig saw oil in the water miles from the California shoreline, they didn’t immediately call authorities. Instead, they dialed the company’s risk management firm.”

The Times adds that Amplify Energy’s Chief Executive “has been evasive about those crucial hours, offering information that conflicts with state and federal records and providing vague responses to questions at news conferences before bowing out of a media appearance Thursday.”

Five oil-covered Snowy Plovers were saved from the Orange County spill area last week. All five of this federally protected species are currently receiving rehabilitative care and will be returned to the wild in a clean and safe environment once they have recovered. (Photo by Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Richard Brahm.)

It’s best to keep your distance

For your own safety, don’t touch a tarball if you come across one. You can help out, however, by reporting information about them by emailing [email protected], as shown above.

Many of us feel the urge to help, but the public is being asked to refrain from participating in the cleanup efforts, and to stay away from impacted beaches.

The Office of Spill Prevention and Response of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife is mounting a quick response. These folks are very capable of supervising the cleanup and assessing damage to natural resources.

In addition, CalSpillWatch says they’ve received over 10,000 volunteer applications, which have more than fulfilled the need for on-site assistance.

Where we drill, we spill

This disaster tells us once again that we need to permanently ban offshore drilling off the West Coast.

Coastal cities in California have led the effort to permanently ban offshore drilling in the past, and will continue to be on the cutting edge. In 2018, in the face of potential oil drilling expansion, the City of Encinitas joined 21 other cities in adopting resolutions to oppose oil and gas drilling off the California coast. 

Congressional and presidential moratoriums have kept the Pacific Ocean off the table for new oil exploration, production and transportation since the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill. But moratoriums are not enough – more needs to be done to permanently prevent any expansion of drilling operations.

A small percentage of our oil comes from California offshore drilling; it’s expensive and not worth the risk. We must seriously consider dissolving the old leases and shutting down the existing pipelines.

Last Tuesday, I joined Representative Mike Levin and Assemblymember Tasha Boerner Horvath at Moonlight Beach to call for the passage of the American Coasts and Ocean Protection Act, a bill by Rep. Levin that would close Southern California to new offshore drilling for good. Here’s a KPBS article and video about the event. (Photo by Scott Chatfield.)

What we can do now

Our Congressman Mike Levin, always a champion of the coastal environment, introduced a bill last May in the U.S. House of Representatives called the American Coasts and Oceans Protection Act. If passed, it will ban new offshore drilling in Southern California from the border north to San Luis Obispo.

I encourage you to help me call on all local elected officials in Southern California to support the bill. In addition, I’ll be introducing a resolution and asking the Encinitas City Council to support Congressman Levin’s bill. 

Here’s the bottom line – we need to wean ourselves off our dependence on oil and stop drilling before more spills degrade our precious, irreplaceable home.

In service,

Southern California Oil Spill Resources

• Southern California Spill Response
• California Coastal Commission Oil Spill Program
• Photos of the spill
• Encinitas Advocate article about tarballs washing up on the shore