Posted on October 6, 2021
The Orange County coastline has become the latest casualty of the nation’s unhealthy dependence on oil.
In one of the biggest California spills in decades, a pipeline connected to an offshoot oil platform off the coast of Huntington Beach released at least 126,000 gallons of crude over the weekend.
By Sunday morning, the smell of diesel and tar hovered in the coastal air as clumps of crude washed ashore, along with dead birds and fish. Out on the water, a vast oil slick larger than city of Santa Monica had formed.
And crews worked feverishly to clean up the oil that had seeped into the delicate coastal marshlands and to prevent greater damage to this essential habitat for migratory birds. Orange County officials estimate that the affected beaches could be closed for weeks or even months.
This is why the U.S. needs to end coastal oil drilling.
Some 23 oil and gas drilling platforms are in federal waters off the California coastline. This spill originated from a platform called Elly, which was installed in 1980.
Elly sits above a large reservoir of oil, in waters overseen by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Environmentalists have long warned that aging oil facilities off the coast pose a serious risk, with one activist calling them “time bombs.”
New drilling permits haven’t been issued since 1980s, but that almost changed under former President Donald Trump. His administration sought to open all federal waters off the U.S. coastline to oil and natural gas exploration. The backlash from states was swift. Trump reversed course and proposed expanding bans on offshore drilling in select federal waters.
California Sen. Dianne Feinstein proposed a bill in January that would permanently bar the federal government from allowing new leases to allow for the exploration, development or production of oil or natural gas off the coast of California, Oregon and Washington state.
It’s not hard to understand why states don’t want to see more drilling off the coast. Local economies are dependent on tourism, commercial and recreational fishing, leisure boating and other activities that benefit from clean, healthy coastal waters. In Huntington Beach, officials had to cancel the final day of the three-day Pacific Airshow, which draws thousands of people to watch flyovers by the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and other jets.
While large-scale spills are somewhat rare in California, they can be devastating when they occur.
In 2015, a pipeline along U.S. 101 broke and sent more than 100,000 gallons of oil into the nearby coast. Some 204 birds and 106 marine mammals died as a result of the spill, and Refugio State Beach was closed for two months while workers tried to remove the oil.
Spills at sea are exceedingly more difficult to clean up than those on land, and the oil they unleash spreads with the currents.
We already know the U.S. needs to wean itself off oil and gas to help the planet avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
This spill illustrates that the threat to the coastal environment isn’t just hypothetical and that we need to move much faster to phase out coastal oil drilling.