Major oil spill off California coast spurs calls for offshore drilling ban

A large oil spill has been reported off the Southern California coast, causing at least 126,000 gallons of oil to spill into the Pacific Ocean, with response efforts headed by the U.S. Coast Guard.

oil spill - U.S. Coast Guard
Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Richard Brahm

The U.S. Coast Guard is leading the response efforts to the reported oil spill off Newport Beach and said the investigation continues into the cause of the spill.

This response is currently a 24/7 operation and response efforts are scheduled to continue until federal and state officials determine that the response to the crude oil spill is complete.

According to the Coast Guard’s initial statement, as of Sunday, a total of 1,218 gallons of oily water mixture have been recovered, nine boats were dispatched for oil spill recovery operations, three shoreline assessment teams have been dispatched, and 3,700 feet of boom have been deployed.

Beaches have been closed starting at Seapoint Drive south to the Santa Ana River. Newport Beach has a soft closure and requests that the public stay out of the water from Tower 44 north to the Santa Ana River.

By the time the Coast Guard released its next report on Sunday, fourteen boats conducted oil recovery operations on Sunday afternoon. Three Coast Guard boats enforced a safety zone off 1,000 yards around oil spill boats and four aircraft were dispatched for overflight assessments. The shoreside response was conducted by 105 government agency personnel.

Approximately 3,150 gallons of oil have been recovered from the water and 5,360 feet of boom has been deployed, the agency said.

oil spill - Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Richard Brahm - U.S. Coast Guard
Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Richard Brahm – U.S. Coast Guard

The Huntington Beach Police Department reported on Sunday that the spill has significantly affected Huntington Beach, with substantial ecological impacts occurring at the beach and at the Huntington Beach Wetlands. In response, Huntington Beach Fire and Marine Safety personnel have been deployed throughout the day to implement environmental containment efforts.

Currently, the oil slick plume measures an estimated 5.8 nautical miles long and runs from the Huntington Beach Pier down into Newport Beach. Given the oil spill impacts, the decision was made by both the City and the State to close the ocean from the Pier all the way down to the Santa Ana River jetty.

According to a report by Reuters, the spill was caused by a breach connected to the Elly oil rig – operated by Beta Offshore, a California subsidiary of Houston-based Amplify Energy Corporation – and stretched from the Huntington Beach Pier down to Newport Beach.

Oceana, a U.S.-based nonprofit ocean conservation organization, said Sunday that a major oil spill disaster was unfolding off the California coast. The city of Huntington Beach reported that the 126,000-gallon oil spill is causing “substantial ecological impacts occurring at the beach and at the Huntington Beach Wetlands.”

Oceana released a statement from Chief Policy Officer, Jacqueline Savitz: “This is the legacy of the fossil fuel age, in which the oil and gas industry pushed their product until we were addicted. We need to break that addiction by shifting to clean energy. It’s time for the age of oil and gas to be history. This is just the latest of many tragedies caused by the oil and gas industry. The reality of our reliance on oil and gas is on full display here.

“In Southern California, the oil has already made its way onto our coasts, covering our beaches in oil and suffocating wildlife, and most of the oil now in our ocean will never be recovered. When we drill, we spill. It’s well past time to prevent future oil spills by permanently protecting our coasts from offshore drilling. The devastating social, economic, and ecological consequences of offshore drilling are, sadly, on full display in Southern California right now. It’s time for President Biden to deliver on his campaign promise to end offshore drilling and we need California’s Senators to ensure this gets done immediately.”

A recent analysis by Oceana found that ending new leasing off the coast of California will safeguard California’s clean coast economy, which collectively supports around 654,000 jobs and over $50 billion in GDP. Nationwide, the U.S. clean coast economy supports around 3.3 million American jobs and $250 billion in GDP.

Oceana’s analysis also found that ending new leasing for offshore oil and gas in the United States could prevent over 19 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions as well as more than $720 billion in damages to people, property, and the environment nationally.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government is preparing for the latest Gulf of Mexico lease sale, scheduled to be live-streamed from New Orleans on 17 November 2021. This lease sale 257 will include approximately 15,135 unleased blocks located from 3 to 231 miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico with water depths ranging from 9 to more than 11,115 feet (3 to 3,400 meters).

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Oceana is calling on President Biden to permanently protect the U.S. coasts from offshore drilling to ensure the future of the coastal economy that depends on a healthy ocean and help address the growing climate crisis.