After a major oil leak wreaked havoc on the Orange County coast; state lawmakers convened in Sacramento on Thursday to demand that those responsible "be held accountable," with one senator calling for a stop to California's offshore drilling.

Exxon Valdez Oil Spill
(Photo : Wikimedia Commons)

California Oil Rigs

Major Oil Spill Fouls Southern California Beaches
(Photo : Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The majority of oil rigs off California's coast are in federally governed seas, senators recognized at an oversight hearing held by the state Senate's Natural Resources and Water Committee that stopping offshore drilling would be a challenging feat. Moreover, any attempt to revoke leases for drilling, pipelines, and other oil infrastructure in state waters might be met with fast legal challenges, potentially costing taxpayers millions, if not billions, of dollars.

Nonetheless, lawmakers and state experts testifying Thursday agreed that as long as oil is exploited offshore, concerns to wildlife and California's prized beaches would exist.

"Is it worthwhile to drill for oil and gas off the coast of the United States? The pervasive hazards put a $44 billion-a-year coastal industry in California in jeopardy, "Sen. Dave Min stated (D-Irvine).

Min pointed out that offshore oil production in federal and state seas in California represents less than 0.3 percent of total US output.

"That's a drop in the bucket," he added, "and yet we're constantly faced with the prospect of oil leaks."

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Galloons of Oil Spill

An estimated 25,000 gallons of oil spilled into the water near Huntington Beach, and investigators believe it was triggered by a cargo ship anchor snagging a 17-mile-long pipeline that goes from an oil platform to the Port of Long Beach.

The hearing on Thursday provided no new information on the cause of the leak, which occurred 4.5 miles offshore in federal seas. In addition, the timeliness and efficacy of the pipeline operator's and US Coast Guard's responses to the leak, which had been questioned in the days following the event, remained unknown.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Chuck Bonham outlined the state's reaction to the leak. Bonham said he and other state officials flew over the lake on Sunday, Oct. 3, two days after officials got information of a probable leak.

Immediate Response

According to Bonham, about 1,500 employees were dispatched within the first week of the reaction to clean up beaches and critical natural areas, confine oil drifting off the coast, and treat wildlife saturated by spilled oil. When asked about the reason for the spill, Bonham deferred to the federal authorities in charge of the investigation.

He told legislators, "It's tied to that evidential and investigative dynamic, and I really can't comment."

Sen. Brian Jones (R-Santee) called for a full inquiry into the leak and how it may have been avoided, but he cautioned lawmakers against jumping to conclusions about who was to blame.

"While the oil corporation undoubtedly has some culpability in the problem, I believe we must not place all of the blame on the business until we have all of the facts," Jones said.

Environmental Disaster

The disaster shut down beaches and dumped gallons of crude oil down the coast in Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, and Huntington Beach, killing fish and birds and endangering critical wetlands. The Small Business Administration of the United States has granted federal disaster aid for firms impacted by the leak.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said it was "time once and for all to disabuse ourselves that [oil drilling] needs to be part of our future" during a press conference at Bolsa Chica State Beach a few days later. Min has also promised to introduce laws to ban offshore drilling and oil extraction.

The oil rigs off the coast of Orange County are operated by an Amplify Energy subsidiary, Beta Operating Co., and the pipeline that broke is the San Pedro Bay Pipeline. Although the incident happened in federal seas, the pipeline is one of many that the State Lands Commission has awarded a long-term lease for traveling across state waters, which extend three nautical miles from shore.

Amplify representatives were invited to appear at the meeting on Thursday but declined, according to committee chairman Sen. Henry Stern (D-Los Angeles).

Governors from both parties and the state's lands and coastal commissioners have successfully thwarted multiple attempts to increase offshore drilling in federal seas in California.

Historical Significance

When President Ronald Reagan's administration planned to open most of the nation's outer continental shelf in the 1980s, 24 California towns and counties passed municipal legislation prohibiting the construction of new infrastructure to facilitate offshore drilling. Oil firms sued seventeen of them, but the ordinances are still in place in some form.

The California Coastal Sanctuary Act, approved by the state legislature in 1994, prevents new leasing in state waters.

California approved legislation prohibiting new oil and gas pipelines and other infrastructure built on state grounds as the Trump administration tried to open federal waters to drilling on an unprecedented scale.


Gulf Oil Spill Spreads, Damaging Economies, Nature, And Way Of Life
(Photo : Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Newsom said in April that new licenses for hydraulic fracturing will be prohibited beginning in 2024, putting an end to the contentious oil extraction technology that has been a focus of environmental campaigners for years.

The governor also asked the California Air Resources Board to figure out how to phase out all oil extraction by 2045. According to the governor's office, Newsom's request to stop the sale of new gas-powered automobiles in California by 2035 would coincide with California's attempt to achieve economy-wide carbon neutrality by 2045.

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