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10 • 03 • 2021

Major Oil Spill Off Orange County Triggers Ecological and Recreational Disaster as it Washes Up on Local Beaches

By Pete Stauffer

The Surfrider Foundation is deeply dismayed to report that on Saturday, October 2nd, up to 131,000 gallons of oil spilled when a pipeline broke approximately 4 miles off the coast near an offshore drilling platform. The spill resulted in a 13-mile wide oil slick off Orange County, California, roughly the same size as the spill that hit Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara in 2015. This accident is yet another stark reminder of how dangerous and dirty offshore oil and gas drilling can be. 

Visit the Southern California Spill Response website for the latest updates from Unified Command on the cleanup, fisheries closures & beach advisories.

The oil spill is causing devastating impacts to birds, fish and other wildlife and has reached the coast in Huntington Beach and Newport Beach. To protect the public, city officials announced on Sunday morning the closure of beachfront areas from the Huntington Beach Pier down to Newport Beach. Surfrider is in close contact with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and other agencies leading the incident command. At this stage, the best thing to do is to support the agencies that are trying to minimize the damage to coastal ecosystems including beaches and wetlands.

“Sadly, once the oil is spilled it is too late. As we are again learning in Southern California, once the disaster has occurred we can only try to minimize the damage,” said Dr. Chad Nelsen, CEO of the Surfrider Foundation. “That is why the Surfrider Foundation has consistently opposed new offshore oil drilling and we ask you to join us in that opposition. We need a strong public response to combat special interests that are constantly pressing for more drilling along our precious coastlines.” 

The public is discouraged from actively participating in the clean up or trying to save oiled wildlife because the oil is highly toxic and you can cause more harm than good. It is imperative that only those with the proper training are involved with the cleanup. Members of the public should not go near the spill, as oil contains dangerous chemicals. The public can help by reporting oil or wildlife sightings (see contacts below) and taking photos to document the disaster.

The coastline and marine environment of Orange County are ecological treasures and will be significantly impacted by this event, as will the economy and recreational use of the area. The spill illustrates why offshore drilling is a dirty and damaging industry, and why Surfrider Foundation is urging Congress to permanently prohibit new offshore drilling in the Pacific, Atlantic and Eastern Gulf of Mexico, which is a possibility in the near future. 

The true ecological damage of the spill will not be realized for years. But what we do know now is that the Southern California coastal environment contains some of the most ecologically sensitive habitats along the West Coast. In fact, marine protected areas were established within the region to protect these sensitive resources indefinitely (except during an oil spill).  

Government agencies, including the U.S. Coast Guard, California Department of Fish & Wildlife, Orange County and San Diego County, are working with Amplify Energy on the cleanup operation. Surfrider was appointed as the NGO Liasion to the Unified Command and will continue to monitor the cleanup efforts and ensure dangerous dispersants will not be used that can compound the problem. Based on evidence from the Deep Water Horizon spill, these dispersants can exacerbate ecological damage to wildlife and the nearshore environment.

Surfrider will also work to ensure that the company responsible is following important laws in place, including the Oil Spill Prevention and Response Act, which requires companies to mitigate ecological harm after a spill. The law also requires the oil companies to prevent future spills by investing money into ‘research and development’ for spill prevention. 

Resources and Ways to Help.  

  • An official website for the response has been established at www.SoCalSpillResponse.com. You can sign up to receive updates here.
  • Review Surfrider’s “Oil Spill Toolkit” that provides information about oil spill responses. Please note, it is important that citizens do not attempt to clean up the oil. Visiting the area is strongly discouraged as oil contains numerous hazardous chemicals.
  • If you're interested in receiving updates on Surfrider volunteer opportunities, please text 'oilspill' (one word) to 51555 or complete this form. You will be added to a list of interested volunteers and will receive updates on ways to get involved.
  • If you find oiled or sick wildlife call the Oiled Wildlife Care Network at (877) 823-6962. People are being asked not to approach potentially affected wildlife, as you can cause more harm than good to the animals.
  • If you encounter tarballs on San Diego and Orange County beaches, contact our clean up teams at tarballreports@wildlife.ca.gov. Do not handle tarballs as oil contains hazardous chemicals.
  • The state has launched an official volunteer page and sign up form for people who want to participate in cleanup activities. Please note that participation in activities may require specific training in dealing with hazardous materials.
  • You can join Surfrider in asking Congress to permanently ban new offshore drilling to stop future spill disasters. Take Action.

Surfrider's Response

  • Demand Full Cleanup - Surfrider is pushing US Coast Guard, CDFW, other agencies and the responsible party to conduct a full and comprehensive cleanup effort that removes the oil and protects public health and safety.
  • Hold polluters accountable - Surfrider is fighting to ensure that Amplify Energy abides by the Oil Spill Prevention and Response Act through mitigating ecological harm. We also successfully pushed Gov. Newsom to sign SB 433 which will increase state enforcement authority and better deter future harm to the coast.
  • Protect Public Health - Surfrider asked Unified Command to conduct immediate water quality monitoring for oil contamination and coordinate with local government on public outreach and beach advisories. Sampling of beaches is underway and results with be posted to the Southern California Spill Response.
  • Chapter Leadership - Surfrider’s Huntington Seal Beach and Newport Beach Chapters met with City Council, Rep. Steel and other leaders to discuss spill response and the need to ban offshore drilling.
  • Spreading the Word - Surfrider is providing regular updates on our channels and the media including Surfrider CEO Chad Nelsen on KNBC-LA, a CNN column by Pete Staufer, and our Protect & Enjoy podcast. Stay tuned for a national webinar and town hall.
  • Volunteer Engagement - Surfrider is promoting the state’s official volunteer page and recruiting supporters who want to make a difference.
  • Stop New Offshore Drilling - Surfrider is uniting our national network to urge Congress to permanently ban new offshore drilling in the Pacific, Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and Arctic Ocean. Take Action.

Please continue to visit www.Surfrider.org for developing news.