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Ellen and Elly offshore oil platforms nearby Long Beach (Photo: Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement)

Environmental Group Announces Plans To Sue Federal Government Over Orange County Oil Spill

Center for Biological Diversity claims federal government had not reviewed, revised platform plans for over 40 years

By Evan Symon, November 2, 2021 11:32 am

The Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental non-profit group with over a thirty year history of legal action, announced that they would be suing the federal government over last month’s oil spill in Orange County.

The spill, first detected on October 1st, is currently still under investigation by both state and federal agencies. Officials believe that the pipeline that sprung the leak had likely been dragged for over 100 feet earlier this year by a container ship with its anchor down. The pipeline, which connects the Elly drilling platform off the coast to the Long Beach Harbor, then finally broke open, sending 3,000 barrels, or, 126,000 gallons, of post production crude oil into the ocean, becoming larger than other recent oil spills in California, such as the Refugio oil spill in Santa Barbara County in 2015.

While beaches reopened quickly, with most only staying closed around a week, the economic losses have been staggering, with federal disaster assistance for businesses starting to come in.

However, new concerns that the Elly platform and others in the Beta oilfield had been operating under outdated plans dating back to the late 1970’s and early 1980’s caused the Center for Biological Diversity to file a notice of it’s intention to sue the U.S. government over spill. Specifically, the notice charges that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management had not reviewed or required any revision of the oil platform or pipeline plans since first approved around 40 years ago during the Carter and Reagan administrations, breaking the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. The notice also noted that plans by the federal government indicated that the platforms should have stopped production and been decommissioned by 2007 at the latest, with no updated drilling or pipeline plans being submitted to extend the planned dates.

“The oil industry is drilling and spilling off California’s coast under plans written when Carter and Reagan were in the White House and floppy disks were high tech,” said Center for Biological Diversity Oceans program legal director Kristen Monsell in a Monday press release. “These incredibly outdated documents highlight the federal government’s reckless, contemptible refusal to protect our beaches, wildlife and communities from offshore drilling pollution. Retro is not a good look for those ominous oil platforms, which should be shut down entirely.”

“Biden officials need to update these plans and lay out a schedule for shutting down these aging platforms. We’ve seen spill after spill in our coastal waters, and offshore drilling is utterly at odds with any serious effort to fight the climate emergency. We need these rusty relics out of our oceans.”

Despite environmental damage being much less than initially feared, due in part to the fast local, state, and federal response, the Center still will take on the government for allegedly allowing it to happen in the first place.

“Under federal law, the government is required to review oil development and production plans for leases in federal waters and revise them as needed in response to changing conditions or activities, though that rarely happens,” said the Center’s oceans director Miyoko Sakashita on Monday. “It is not lawful for them to just continue on with these really old development and production plans. It’s particularly notable in this instance where we’ve now had this oil spill. The infrastructure is aging and things need to be done differently.”

While the Department of Interior and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management have not commented due to governmental policy not to comment on current litigation, many legal experts noted that the Center will likely face a strong challenge in the courts.

“There’s a lot of factors beyond the platforms getting up there in age,” Jason Klein, an East Coast-based lawyer who has been a part of cases concerning oil companies and the environment in the past, told the Globe Tuesday. “For that California spill you need to take into account how badly the oil was needed, if the companies made any improvements themselves in or around the platforms, what safety checks and inspections showed, and a lot of other factors that could prove that upgrades and revisions may not have been needed.”

“Remember, a lot of things changed after Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon, with those responsible getting gigantic fines and extremely negative press. BP had to pay a lot just in damage control alone for Deepwater, not to mention a $4.5 billion penalty. No company wants to go through that, especially if repairs are way, way cheaper. So if these platforms were still operating, it may be that they were still ok.”

“But, right now, it’s just a potential case and, right now, these are just allegations. We don’t know exactly what’s up here.”

The case is expected to be filed soon.

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Evan Symon
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