Tar-Ball Beach

On February 7, 1990, the American Trader, an oil tanker spilled 416,598 gallons of crude oil off the coast of Huntington Beach. Thirty-one years later, on October 2, 2021, a ship anchor may have dragged and damaged an undersea pipeline, spilling 25,000 gallons (revised from 131,000) of oil in the ocean near the same coast. Since the ‘70s when offshore drilling became common practice, California has suffered a dozen major oil spills, killing birds, fish, ocean mammals, threatening species, wreaking havoc with workers’ health, shutting down fisheries, and impacting the tourism industry. Each of the 23 offshore drilling platforms along the coast of California poses a constant threat. 


The current disaster has mobilized workers from the US Coast Guard, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Orange and San Diego Counties, hazmat-trained volunteers, along with Amplify Energy, the offshore drilling operator. Despite the entirely avoidable nature of this disaster, cities with diminished teams due to COVID-19 are allocating staff members to attend daily briefings, assess the presence of tar-balls on beaches, prepare flyers to educate the public about the hazard, and organize efforts to protect natural conservation areas.  

Boom across the San Dieguito River, to protect wetlands. The boom was removed on October 17th. Photo by Valérie Dufort-Roy

 Specifically in Del Mar, Clem Brown, Environmental Sustainability & Special Projects Manager serving as Emergency Manager for this incident, explains that the Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Team (SCAT) estimated the impacted areas using aerial infrared sensors early in October. Afterwards, the SCAT teams switched to on-foot assessments. The data collected is shared with the Unified Command, which dispatches hazmat trained Cleanup Task Force personnel. Mid-October, a wind storm brought a large number of tar-balls to our Del Mar beaches, but the volume washing ashore has significantly diminished since. 


Is offshore drilling a necessity in this decade? It produces less than 1% of the global oil production. Simultaneously, we are reducing dependance on fossil fuels, increasing fuel economy standards, energy efficiency, making hybrid and electric vehicles the norm, promoting telecommuting, and pursuing further the development of sustainable fuel sources including offshore wind farms. Considering that the offshore drilling infrastructure is dated and poses environmental hazards, efforts to end leases on oil rigs, to decommission unused rigs and prohibit the building of new ones are in the works. You can express support through the Surfrider Foundation, or help our local representative Mike Levin with his effort through the Build Back Better Act and with the American Coasts and Oceans Protection Act to ban new offshore drilling. 


It would be pathetic to wait yet another 30 years to fix the problem, wouldn’t it?