Fishing owners whose livelihoods have collapsed. Wildlife rescuers who have spent the past two weeks cleaning oil from bird feathers. Advocates for coastal businesses who account for damage to local shops, restaurants and hotels.
These are some of the stories witnesses shared at a Congressional hearing on Monday, Oct. 18 in Irvine, about how this month’s oil spill affected their lives.
Meanwhile, Democratic Representatives Katie Porter of Irvine, Alan Lowenthal of Long Beach and Mike Levin of San Juan Capistrano – who led the joint hearing of the House of Natural Resources Subcommittees on Monitoring and Investigations and on Energy and Mineral Resources at Irvine Ranch Water District Headquarters – said the company that owns the pipeline continues to receive millions of dollars in taxpayer grants to stay profitable.
“Getting rid of these grants is the first step in getting rid of the problem,” said Porter, who chairs the oversight subcommittee.
The rare hearing outside of DC did not focus on what caused approximately 25,000 gallons of crude oil to leak into the ocean, but Porter, Lowenthal and Levin insisted that the end of all Offshore drilling is the best way to mitigate the risk of a future spill.
“We will wait until the agencies complete their investigations before we talk about liability,” Porter said.
“But the first step to liability is to understand the damage. And that’s why we’re here today, to hear directly from the community what happened.
Appearing defeated, Scott Breneman, whose family has been selling fish through Dory’s Fishing Fleet and Dory’s Market in Newport Beach since 1902, told members of Congress his fishing activity fell 90% after the spill. He added that he doesn’t know when, or if, he will make a full recovery.
Lowenthal asked Breneman how he could keep customers coming back, admitting that “that would be a lot to convince me” that fish from local waters is now safe to eat. Breneman said they were fishing 90 miles offshore, often 3,000 feet deep, away from affected waters. But he said the public didn’t know it, and even restaurants that have been buying from him for years don’t know what to do.
At a community forum after the hearing, Terese Pearson, owner of the Pearson Harbor fishery in Newport Back Bay, said the California Department of Fish and Wildlife told them they might not have any toxicity tests which would allow fishing to resume until December.
“There’s a good chance the vacation will be a failure for us,” Pearson said.
When the spill abruptly canceled on the last day of the Pacific Airshow in Huntington Beach – which is still reeling from last year’s shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic – it hit many other local businesses as well, testified Vipe Desai, who helped found the Business Alliance for Protecting the Pacific Coast. He said the owners of Wahoo’s Fish Tacos and Jack’s Surfboards have reported significant losses. At Captain Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Watching Safari, bookings have dropped by 74%. And Grant Bixby, a local real estate agent, said his clients’ vacation rentals were down until November.
“Where they drill, they overflow. And when they spread, working class people grapple with the consequences, ”Desai said.
Oil subsidies called into question
Amplify Energy Corp., parent company of Beta Offshore, which operates the pipeline related to the spill, did not participate in the hearing. But the company sent a statement on Monday saying it supports the cleanup efforts and all investigations, and is committed to “safely operating” its oil operations in the future.
“Offshore energy development and maritime traffic can and have coexisted in this region for decades and we are committed to working with maritime stakeholders to investigate this incident and ensure that something like this does not happen again. “
Porter said losses to local business owners and costs to environmental groups should be counted among taxpayer subsidies to oil companies such as Amplify Energy.
Beta Offshore has received $ 20 million in federal “royalty relief” in recent years and is set to secure an additional $ 11 million to develop four new wells here, Porter said Monday. She said the subsidies are necessary because drilling on this rig is no longer economically viable.
The Build Back Better Act, a $ 3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill debated in Congress, currently includes Democrats’ proposal to end these subsidies and ban all future offshore drilling in federal waters.
Full impacts unknown
House members and conservationists at Monday’s hearing said they were relieved to learn the oil leak is expected to be less than the initial high-end estimate of 131,000 gallons . San Diego representative Sara Jacobs said her district appears to have been spared contamination thanks to luck with the ocean conditions.
But Jacobs, among others, is still concerned about the long-term effects of the spill. She also said that the current monitoring rules, some of which have suggested give oil operators too much leverage over safety and environmental issues, as well as worsening storms due to climate change. , are a “recipe for disaster” for future spills.
Porter said the full effect of this leak may not be known for years.
Porter, who often uses a whiteboard and other props at public hearings, held up a zoomed-in photo of a tar ball of poisonous oil as she interviewed David Valentine, UC Santa marine science professor Barbara on the potential long-term effects of the spill. . Valentine said the poisonous petroleum tar balls can land on the seabed or wash off ashore, possibly far from the initial spill. He recalled how a 2019 spill off the coast of Brazil sent oil to Florida.
Michael Ziccardi, director of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network and One Health Institute at UC Davis, said his group was testing what led to the illness of a sick dolphin that was recently euthanized. He added that even the birds his group has cleaned and released into clean water can still be at health risk if they eat food contaminated with the petroleum.
At a community forum following the congressional hearing, Huntington Beach City Councilor Natalie Moser explained how her town will vote Tuesday night on a measure to support the end of all offshore drilling. “This tragedy is local,” Moser said, expressing thanks for the clean-up efforts and concern about the long-term effects.
Several kilometers to the south, in Laguna Beach, around 100 people, including actress and activist Jane Fonda, attended a press conference Monday in favor of banning all offshore oil drilling. State Senator Dave Min, who attended the event, said he intended to introduce legislation to this effect in the next session.
The oil spill became a source of partisan dispute between local officials and challengers amid close races in 2022, and Monday’s hearing sparked more tension.
Democrats are rallying around bans on offshore drilling. Republicans suggest the problem is the huge backlog of ships that cannot enter the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles due to supply chain issues affecting the global economy. Investigators for the spill are focusing on the idea that an idling ship anchor could have dislodged the pipeline earlier this year.
GOP Representative Michelle Steel, whose 48th District includes much of coastal Orange County, declined to answer questions about her stance on offshore drilling, focusing instead on idling vessels offshore. Steel was not at Monday’s hearing, prompting questions from residents on social media.
Steel is not one of the subcommittees that held the joint hearing. But neither did Jacobs, who said she was invited to attend.
When asked if Steel had been invited to the hearing, a spokesperson for Porter’s office said representatives can “waive” any House hearing to ask questions or testify. “We can confirm that Rep. Steel did not request to waive this hearing, but further questions as to why she did not do so should be directed to her office.”
In response, Danielle Stewart from the Steel office said:
“I think it is misleading to suggest that she should have waived a hearing for a committee of which she is not a member, to which she was not invited, and which was not in her district. She focused on common sense solutions following the oil spill and will continue to engage with local leaders to support the district.