According to Coast Guard estimates, the crude oil slick currently floating in front of California’s coasts measures about 30 square kilometers. The plumes of oil fouling up the waters of the Catalina Strait, some 50 kilometers south of Los Angeles, still remain for the most part a couple of kilometers off the coast of Orange County, but the first traces of pollution have reached the famous beaches of Newport, Huntington Beach and Laguna Beach. The oil is moving with the southerly currents toward San Clemente and other locations in San Diego County.
All this is the effect of a leak in the 20-kilometer underwater pipeline that carries crude oil from the Elly offshore platform, owned by Amplify Energy, to refineries in Long Beach. Inspections of the pipeline are still in progress, but the theory of the investigators is that the failure may have been caused by an anchor from one of the many ships waiting to dock in the largest port on the West Coast, causing the spillage of about 500,000 liters of crude oil.
After the state of emergency declared by Governor Gavin Newsom, numerous Coast Guard boats and specialized vessels are working to try to contain the dense oil with floating barriers and limit the impact on the coast, which includes several reserves populated by sea lions, dolphins and pelicans. For now, the number of animals impacted by the oil still seems limited, but the experts are warning that in all likelihood, the number of dead fish and oil-smeared birds will increase in the days and the weeks to come. This time it’s not the blue collar towns of the Gulf of Mexico that are in the path of the oil, but the renowned luxury resorts of the Californian Riviera, dotted with billionaire villas and historic surf spots, which now could risk closure for many weeks.
Seventy-two offshore wells currently operate off the coast between Santa Barbara and San Diego, many with decades-old, dilapidated equipment. An accident caused a catastrophic leak of 100,000 barrels off Santa Barbara back in 1969, and the outcry that followed is considered the birth of the modern environmental movement (the first Earth Day was organized the following year in response).
Thanks to environmentalist militancy, repeated attempts by the Reagan, Bush and Trump administrations to incentivize new offshore drilling have been defeated. Now that the new disaster has once again illustrated the risks of the old energy paradigm, new appeals have already been launched to freeze further extraction operations and possibly remove those still in place, the only method to truly ensure that new ecological catastrophes do not occur.
Subscribe To Our Newsletter
Your weekly briefing of progressive news.