Biden urged to cancel California’s coastal oil leases after spill

Environmentalists say the Biden administration has the power to cancel oil and gas leases off the California coast.

A warning sign is posted for people to stay out of the water after a significant oil spill off the coast of California came ashore in Huntington Beach, California, in early October [File: Mike Blake/Reuters]

Following a recent oil spill environmentalists are urging US regulators to suspend and cancel oil and gas leases in federal waters off the California coast.

About three dozen environmental groups sent a petition to the US Department of the Interior on Wednesday, saying it has the authority to suspend and ultimately cancel the oil leases.

Calls for the administration of US President Joe Biden to cancel extraction in the area came less than a month after an underwater pipeline transporting oil from offshore platforms to the California coast leaked 94,635 litres of crude into the ocean.

California extracted about seven million barrels of oil from offshore sources in 2019, the latest year for which figures are available, according to US government data.

“Federal officials have the power and the duty to stop the oil industry from killing our birds, fouling our beaches and polluting our climate,” Emily Jeffers, a lawyer with the Center for Biological Diversity who wrote the petition, said in a statement on Wednesday. “The Biden administration needs to bring the hammer down on offshore drilling in California’s federal waters.”

The Department of the Interior declined to comment on the petition following a query from The Associated Press.

The Department is required to respond to the petition, Jeffers said. If it does not, she said the environmental groups could take legal action.

The spill, believed to have taken place sometime around October 1, fouled sensitive beaches and wetlands, forced the closure of fisheries, and harmed or killed dozens of fish and birds so far, the Center for Biological Diversity said. The full damage to wildlife is likely to take months to become apparent, it added.

Local officials and businesses in Huntington Beach, California, where crude from the spill washed ashore, also worry oil contamination will hurt tourism in a region known for its surfing.

When the spill happened in early October, Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr said some 34sq kilometres (13sq miles) of ocean and portions of the town’s coastline were “covered in oil”. The amount of oil spilled, however, turned out to be less than what was previously thought.

US investigators have said they believe a 366-metre (1,200-foot) cargo ship dragging anchor in rough seas caught the underwater pipeline operated by Houston-based Amplify Energy and pulled it across the seafloor early this year.

They have not determined whether impact with the Panama-registered MSC DANIT caused this spill or if the line was hit by something else or failed due to a preexisting problem.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies