The list of those affected by the catastrophic oil spill off the coast of Orange County is growing as Huntington Beach residents and nearby coastal communities consider the damage.
Already, a resident has filed a federal class action lawsuit alleging wage loss and potential exposure to health risks. Another staged a small protest, citing additional economic hardship after more than a year of uncertainty surrounding the pandemic. A third, a lobster fisherman, said he expected significant losses during what is usually his busiest time of the year.
Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr said the area’s famous beaches could be closed for weeks or even months. But with oil-stained seabirds, empty businesses and enclosed fishing, some fear the sticky black oil along the coastline will damage Surf City’s lifestyle for much longer.
“We’re getting to the point where we have all these stressors on stressors on stressors,” said Sean Anderson, chair of the Environmental Science and Resource Management Program at CSU Channel Islands. “What is the added stress of this oil spill on already stressed systems?”
Anderson, who has researched oil spills in California, Louisiana and the Middle East, said the Orange County spill is not an isolated disaster, but “another damage” to an ecosystem, to an economy, to life as we have it. known.
“An analogy is COVID-19,” he said. “The most significant impact may not be on ecology. It could be socio-economic. “
The first federal disaster-related lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles late Monday against Amplify Energy Corp. and its Beta Offshore division. The Houston-based energy company owns the oil production facility from which the 144,000 gallon spill appears to have originated.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Huntington Beach resident Peter Moses Gutierrez Jr., who owns a DJ company that performs frequent seaside events, according to court documents.
The complaint alleges that Gutierrez has lost and will continue to lose a significant amount of business due to the oil spill. Amplify Energy did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The complaint also alleges that Gutierrez and other local residents were exposed to hazardous toxins due to the spill, citing the advice of Orange County Health Officer Clayton Chau regarding the direct and indirect effects of the oil on health. The council recommended that residents who encountered the oil seek medical attention and warned that contaminants from spills could be absorbed through the skin or inhaled through aerosolized vapors.
“After the breakdown occurred and oil began to seep into the Pacific Ocean, the surrounding areas were affected and the citizens living in those areas were also affected,” the lawsuit says.
Residents were also asked to refrain from participating in recreational activities along the coastline, such as swimming, surfing, cycling, walking, training and gathering.
“It has a huge environmental impact,” Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley said as she watched the damage on Sunday, “and it has an economic impact both in terms of cleanup and the closure of a major tourist destination during a pandemic, when we all we fought .. “
Gutierrez is one of the few business owners to report losses. The State Department of Fish and Wildlife has imposed a temporary ban on commercial and recreational fishing in an area that stretches about 20 miles south of Sunset Beach to Dana Point and stretches six miles to sea.
Josh Hernandez, 29, is a commercial fisherman collecting lobster off the coast of Orange County. On the first Wednesday of October, he and others with permission can legally block crustaceans.
The first two weeks “is when we catch the most,” he said, noting that they make about 70% of their profit in the early part of the season. Last October, Hernandez sold lobster worth about $ 80,000.
He had heard about the oil spill via Instagram and had seen how he was getting closer and closer to Laguna Beach, where he had placed a quarter of his 300 traps.
He spent the whole day shifting those traps to Dana Point and chopping bait before learning that everything was locked up to the San Clemente pier. Authorities were also planning to create a boom at the mouth of the port, preventing ships from leaving and returning.
“It will have a huge impact,” he said. “It’s really catastrophic.”
He worried about several hundred traps left at Dana Point, each worth $ 100, that could be damaged by oil.
“I look forward to this all summer,” he said. “I have accumulated credit cards, bills to pay and a 2-year-old girl and another on the street. I just do not know what to do at this point. “
Surf coach Bronwyn Major said her business has also received a blow from the oil spill.
On Sunday afternoon, the Major was walking on the beach holding a two-sided sign that read “No / oil’s”. Her white shirt read “The only thing in HB that should be offshore are the winds”.
The spread forced Major to cancel her women’s surfing club, which she expects every Sunday for up to half a dozen clients in Huntington Beach. She has been the host of the club for about a year.
“It won’t be cleaned until tomorrow. It will take at least a few weeks, maybe even a few months before we stop looking at some of the washed tar,” she said. “I will be directly affected. Of course I will have to change some of my jobs.”
It seemed to me like the last blow. Major, who has trained for eight years, said the pandemic had already disrupted her livelihood. Then came the loss of unemployment benefits, and now the oil spill.
“It’s just one more blow,” she said. “It’s really hard to get out of a pandemic and just try to get back on your feet.”
The spill, which triggered a state of emergency from Governor Gavin Newsom, reached Talbert Swamp and several environmentally sensitive wetlands Sunday morning. Some fish and birds have already been found dead and wildlife advocates fear many more victims in the days ahead.
Unlike potential economic losses, “you can not really do that kind of quantitative assessment for a mine that is being mined,” said Deborah Sivas, director of the Environmental Justice Clinic at Stanford Law School. “We have so few coastal wetlands, and they serve a really important ecological role.”
Sivas, who is not involved in any litigation over the Orange County spill, said Amplify may be worried about cleaning costs and damage to natural resources. Plains All American Pipeline LP, the company involved in the 2015 Refugio oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, agreed on a $ 60 million settlement for similar claims, she said.
There may be merit to some civil claims, she said, noting that a victim fund was created for people who lost their livelihoods after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 – although she did not think the impact on Orange County would be as long-term, given the relatively smaller spill size.
The cause of the oil spill has not been officially determined, but Amplify has stated that the anchor of a vessel hitting the pipeline was “one of the distinguishable possibilities”. Locals have raised questions about how long it took to notify residents of the spill.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles said it was “working with other federal law enforcement authorities to determine if there could be any criminal liability stemming from the oil spill,” according to spokesman Thom Mrozek.
Anderson, from the Cal State Channel Islands, said his group’s research found a relatively small economic impact from the Refugio 2015 spill, but noted that so much has been destabilized by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Now we have all these businesses that can barely survive,” he said. “They can not afford two months” disruption.
“There is an analogy with the world of ecology,” he said. “In the human world, attack after attack upon attack – that’s how we should think about it. Not as a single attack in a pristine world.”