Oil began seeping into the ocean on Friday night. By Sunday, October 3, a full-blown crisis was underway in Huntington Beach, California, as over 125,000 gallons of crude began to wash up on shore. We are now seeing the terrible images and videos and hearing the devastating stories coming out of California—dying and dead fish and birds coated with oil, tar balls on shores, oily surf rolling onto our beloved beaches. There is a terrible sense of déjà vu for many Californians like me who have experienced repeated oil disasters up and down this magnificent coastline.
From the grounding of the Exxon Valdez to the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion, Ocean Conservancy has learned how critical it is to move quickly to safely plug this breach, mobilize local and regional resources to minimize the immediate ecological impacts and hold the responsible parties accountable for the ecological and economic damage.
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Oil spill impacts now. And later.
While we are very much in the early days of this disaster, much is at risk. California beaches are world-renowned, and the kelp forests and associated marine wildlife—from fish to birds to marine mammals—are iconic.
The BP Deepwater Horizon experience taught us that when toxic oil is released at the bottom of the ocean, as happened here, it can impact the entire ocean ecosystem, from seafloor habitats to coastal wetlands. As the oil rises to the surface and moves to shore, it can impact a wide range of species including plankton, invertebrates, fish, sea turtles and marine mammals. Acute effects are most obvious in the images of oiled birds and dead fish now in the headlines, but long-lasting, chronic effects of oil pollution are common as well. A decade after Deepwater Horizon and 30 years after Exxon Valdez, ecological impacts continue from both.
This oil spill is developing rapidly, and what we know so far is far less than what we don’t yet know. But one thing is certain—the ocean and the communities impacted will need our help for a long time to come.
What You Can Do
Support local cleanup efforts
While you may feel compelled to get out on the beach to help, please stay off the beach and out of the water for now. We need to let the professionals take charge of what is a dangerous situation—oil contains toxic chemicals harmful to people and marine life alike. Please follow local expert guidance for ways that you can safely assist in cleanup efforts. In particular, if you see injured wildlife, please resist the temptation to rescue the animal and instead contact the authorities at 877-823-6926. Please also consider donating to frontline efforts that can use your funding to pay for vital equipment and experts to undertake wildlife rescues and other vital activities. A good place to start is with efforts led by the City of Huntington Beach.
Hold the polluters responsible
This pipeline is owned by Amplify Energy Corporation out of Houston, Texas. According to U.S. law, Amplify is responsible for the costs of containment, cleanup and damages to natural resources, including lost uses such as fishing, surfing and swimming. Therefore, it is critical that local, regional and national organizations rigorously document the environmental, economic and social damage from this event to accurately quantify Amplify’s responsibility in dollars and cents. While Amplify has reportedly shut off and patched the pipeline, the cause for the spill still remains unclear. This raises a red flag about the structural integrity of both this pipeline and other offshore oil infrastructure off America’s coasts. That is why it is likely you will see a growing chorus of voices in the coming days to end all offshore drilling for oil and gas.
Call for ambitious policies to tackle the climate crisis
This oil spill is another tragic reminder that we must act swiftly to transition ourselves off fossil fuels and secure a clean and renewable energy future. The climate crisis poses an existential threat to our planet, and business-as-usual is no longer an option. Californians have experienced far too many oil spills, from the Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969 and the Cusco Buson spill in 2007 to the Refugio oil spill in 2015 and now the Huntington spill today. The evidence is clear—offshore oil and gas development is a dangerous and risky business with far-reaching consequences for our ocean and the planet. We must prevent any new offshore oil and gas activity and accelerate a just and equitable transition to clean energy alternatives. Taking this bold step would help prevent another offshore oil tragedy like this and help mitigate the climate crisis. This new catastrophe shows we don’t have a moment to waste.
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