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One of California’s most expensive beach communities is soaked in oil

Platforms Ellen and Elly offshore near Long Beach, California.
US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement
Offshore oil platforms Elllen, left, and Elly, which are thought to be the source of the spill
  • Tim Fernholz
By Tim Fernholz

Senior reporter


A catastrophic oil spill off the shore of one of the most expensive beachfront communities in California is threatening wildlife at sea and in coastal wetlands.

Authorities believe the spill is leaking from an undersea pipe connected to an offshore oil rig known as “Elly,” which along with its sister rig “Ellen” is operated by Beta Operating Corp., a subsidiary of Amplify Energy.

The Coast Guard is still investigating, but early estimates suggest that at least 126,000 gallons of oil is in the water, spreading over a slick more than 10 miles long and washing up on nearby beaches. For context, a 2007 spill in northern California involving 53,000 gallons of oil resulted in the death of 6,800 birds, according to the Voice of Orange County.

Local authorities closed public beaches and canceled a planned air show that would have drawn the public to the waterfront.

A member of the city council in nearby Newport Beach, California, shared a picture of an oil-soaked pelican on the beach:

The spill was discovered off the cost of California’s Orange County, a wealthy community south of Los Angeles that served as the home base for Ronald Reagan’s conservative political movement.

Even as the US government and nations around the world push to decarbonize their economies and slow climate change, their prosperity remains dependent on fossil fuels. The US in particular will look to domestic producers—like the rigs apparently involved in this accident—to help fight gasoline price increases that are now driving inflation, even as it tries to advance emissions reduction goals at the upcoming United Nations climate change conference.

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