News23ABC In-Depth


Could the Southern California oil spill have an impact on Kern County?

Posted: 4:26 PM, Oct 05, 2021
Updated: 2021-10-06 11:41:20-04
California Fracking

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Governor Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency as clean-up efforts are now underway after nearly over 126,000 gallons of oil spilled into the Pacific Ocean in Southern California from an underwater pipeline over the weekend.

The clean-up efforts are still being monitored both onshore and in the air as the extent of the ecological damage is still unclear but the question still remains: when did the spill happen?

According to a hazardous materials spill report from the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) on Friday at 8:22 p.m. local time, a caller reported "an unknown sheen in the water near their vessel in the Pacific Ocean." But officials with Amplify Energy, the company that owned the pipeline, and the Coast Guard said they weren't notified Friday night.

According to the California Coastal Commission, which plans and regulates the use of land and water in coastal zones, the last major oil pipeline spill was in 2015 in Santa Barbara County. That incident resulted in 100,000 gallons of crude oil flowing into the ocean near Refugio State Beach. But the disaster that sparked the modern environmental movement took place back in 1969 when off-shore drilling near Santa Barbara spilled over four million gallons of crude oil into the ocean.

California Oil Spills

With Kern County being one of the top oil-producing counties in the state, 23ABC investigated how big the spill is and how it might affect Kern.

Kern County produces nearly 326,000 barrels of oil per day. That’s more than two times the amount of oil that spilled into the Pacific Ocean. While it’s still not good officials told 23ABC that offshore oil drilling is the problem but that’s not what is done in Kern County. 

“It’s a very small, small part of our supply, 126,000 gallons versus [the] 75 million that we produce every day. It shouldn’t affect our price,” said   Chad Hathaway, owner and president of Hathaway LLC , an independent oil company headquartered in Bakersfield.

Hathaway said offshore oil drilling which caused the spill in Southern California is more dangerous than producing oil in fields.  

“Offshore oil production is definitely more dangerous and more susceptible for things like this,” said Hathaway.

Why is oil harmful to the environment?

Oil in the water can be deadly for animals. Oil is toxic when ingested. When birds get oil on their feathers, it impairs the important waterproofing that is necessary to keep a bird warm. A bird may also lose its ability to float in the water or to fly if it is covered in oil. Oiled marine mammals may suffer from hypothermia. Oil may cause reproductive problems and genetic abnormalities in fish. Contaminants may enter the food chain and result in seafood that is unfit for people to eat.

As of November 26, 2007, 2,125 birds were either found dead or died after collection due to the Cosco Busan oil spill in San Francisco Bay. As of that date, 773 birds had been cleaned of oil and 188 of those had been released back into the Bay. Recovery workers after the 1989 Exxon Valdez incident, which spilled 11 million gallons of oil in Alaska, collected about 30,000 dead oiled birds and 1,000 dead sea otters, among other animals. Many other animals were likely affected but not recovered. Dolphin health was still being impacted years after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion that spilled more than 130 million gallons into Gulf of Mexico waters.

California Coastal Commission

Now officials want to put an end to offshore drilling.

“Oil drilling platforms that are out there in the ocean, they have outlived their expected lifespan and their old and rusty, and they really should be decommissioned,” said  Miyoko Sakashita, the director of Oceans Program at the Center for Biological Diversity .

Sakashita said wildlife faces consequences as well when these oil spills happen. 

“Oil spills can harm wildlife and have devastating impacts like we’ve seen with this oil spill. But in addition to that, oil drilling is always harming our climate and deepening our climate crisis."

What is the government doing to prevent oil spills?

After the large Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska in 1989, both the United States and California governments enacted laws to help prevent oil spills. The International Safety Management Code, enforced since 1998, requires ships entering U.S. ports to meet certain standards, including procedures for reporting accidents and requiring qualified crew. In 1990, the U.S. enacted the Oil Pollution Act (OPA). One of the things OPA did was require that oil tankers be double-hulled, and requires the phase out of existing single-hull tankers. A double-hull further protects a ship from damage to its cargo tank, reducing the risk of oil spilling during an accident. California enacted the Oil Spill Prevention and Response Act in 1990, which established the Office of Oil Spill Prevention and Response within the Department of Fish and Game, which is authorized to direct spill response, cleanup, and natural resource damage assessment activities, as well as regulate all private vessels over 300 gross tons (672,000 pounds) that enter California ports.

California Coastal Commission

Hathaway said he believes it’s time to look at where it’s safe to drill oil, like in Kern County.  

“I think we need to be looking at California [oil] producers and saying 'Hey, where is it safe? Where should we promote safe production in California?'” he said.

Hathaway said it might not be the right idea to promote offshore oil production until those operations "can survive the scrutiny that they need to be under."

"Maybe it’s a little bit safer to promote products in the San Joaquin Valley production in California,” Hathaway added.  

Report an oil spill:

  • National Response Center
    • 1-800-424-8802
  • California Office of Emergency Services
    • 1-916-262-1621
  • California Fish & Wildlife, Office of Spill Prevention & Response
    • 1-800-OILS-911
  • California Coastal Commission Oil Spill Program Coordinator
    • Jonathan Bishop
      California Coastal Commission
      45 Fremont Street, Suite 2000
      San Francisco, CA 94105
      Santa Cruz Office: (831) 427-4873
      San Francisco Office: (415) 904-5247
      Fax: (415) 904-5400

According to the Associated Press, authorities say the pipeline that leaked tens of thousands of gallons of oil into the water off Southern California was split open and apparently dragged along the ocean floor.

Coast Guard Capt. Rebecca Ore said Tuesday that divers determined about 4,000 feet of the pipeline was "laterally displaced" by about 105 feet. Ore told the AP the pipeline had a 13-inch gash in it.

Officials said Monday that they were considering whether a ship's anchor might have caused the oil spill that has fouled beaches in Orange County.

The Coast Guard says it did not investigate initial reports of the spill for nearly 12 hours because it didn't have enough corroborating evidence.

In a news release, Amplify Energy Corp., the Houston-based company that owns the pipeline the oil is leaking from, notified the US Coast Guard on Saturday after an oil sheen was spotted in the water near Huntington Beach.

HOUSTON, Oct. 04, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Amplify Energy Corp. (NYSE: AMPY) (“Amplify”, “Amplify Energy” or the “Company”) announced today that on Saturday, October 2, 2021, Beta Offshore (a subsidiary of Amplify Energy) first observed and notified the US Coast Guard of an oil sheen approximately four (4) miles off the coast in Southern California and initiated its Oil Spill Prevention and Response Plan.

The Company has sent a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to investigate and attempt to confirm source of the release.

As a precautionary measure, all of the Company’s production and pipeline operations at the Beta Field have been shut down.

Amplify Energy is a fully engaged member of and working cooperatively with the unified command, consisting of the Coast Guard, California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (CDFW-OSPR).

Amplify Energy

The company said they shut down all of their production and pipeline operations at the Beta Field as a precautionary measure.

Meanwhile, the number of birds recovered after a massive oil spill off the coast of Southern California seems to be lower than expected. As of Monday, four oiled birds were collected one of which had to be euthanized due to its injuries.

The network has 1,600 people specifically trained to treat these animals at facilities like the Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach.

Crews are on standby with a hotline you can call if you spot an animal covered in the dangerous oil.

They're also working to stop the spread of oil from entering the wetlands at Huntington Beach although there was no way to stop birds from landing on the slick water.

There was no immediate estimate on how much sea life may perish due to the spill but crews said they will be looking to see what washes onshore in the coming days.