Disaster response authorities struggling to contain the Orange County oil spill have cut off their regular news conferences, which they’ve held over the last week to provide crucial updates to the public.
Officials from the U.S. Coast Guard, state Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, and the company responsible for the spill, Amplified Energy, have worked on cleanup over the last six days, coalesced under a team called “Unified Command,” which has held the regular updates.
That so-called unified command announced Friday morning it will no longer make authorities available for public questioning until “new significant information becomes available.”
It comes as authorities are leaning on volunteers to fill in the gaps on cleanup worker demand.
OC Oil Spill
- Authorities now estimate a spill size range between 25,000 gallons to a maximum of 131,000 gallons
- 5,544 gallons of oily water retrieved
- Approximately 172,500 pounds of oily debris has been recovered from shorelines
- 14,060 feet of boom laid to try to curb oil spread
- More than 900 people on the ground in cleanup effort
- General questions: 714-374-1702
- Do not approach affected wildlife, call in a report: 877-823-6926
- Assist with animals: 714-374-5587
- Help with cleanups: 714-374-1702
- File a claim: 866-985-8366
Authorities coordinating cleanup — which includes the Coast Guard and Amplify Energy — over the last week also faced mounting questions about apparent communication failures from Amplify and the Coast Guard around the environmental disaster.
Each time they were asked about such notification delays and who’s to blame for coming up short, clean up authorities either refused to answer or referred to the state and federal investigators looking into the incident — investigators who have yet to step into the spotlight and face the public.
At officials’ most recent Thursday news conference, Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr called out the way her city had received conflicting information from authorities who were supposed to be monitoring the incident.
When asked Friday about the canceled updates, Carr said she understands that there may be a lull in noteworthy developments, and that it wasn’t cleanup officials’ purview to speak on an investigation into accountability.
But she has taken issue with how local elected leaders are treated during the news conferences — like an “afterthought.”
“I have been a little bit frustrated with these press conferences and the way they’ve been conducted and how elected officials have been pushed to the side,” Carr said.
She said elected officials are, after all, among the impacted residents and are “the boots on the ground” representing the residents’ perspective.
“Those press conferences are also to get information out on what’s happening in our cities, so residents can be assured we’re doing everything possible to let them know their health and safety is most important, that’s what I need to get out to the public, and those conferences are not doing that,” Carr said.
At Thursday’s news conference, for example, state Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris echoed the tone of reporters in voicing enthusiasm for the spill investigators to finally make themselves available to the public.
Asked when, exactly, that would happen, Petrie-Norris said “We will know by tomorrow (Friday), come hell or high water.”
Carr wondered aloud over the phone: “Weren’t they supposed to do that today? I walked away from that conference thinking they were coming today. Did that change?”
A few minutes later, Carr called back after getting an update from a public information officer and said she was told that, in fact, “we would learn today when the investigators would be coming out. A lot of people were confused by that.”
The decision to cancel the oil spill news conferences also comes after Voice of OC found that the pipeline should’ve had an automatic shut-off system in place, according to a copy of the 1979 Coastal Commission Report for the pipeline’s approval.
There’s been speculation the leak was caused by a ship’s anchor.
It’s a scenario state officials warned about in 1979.
“Pipeline damage due to anchor dragging has been one of the major causes of subsea pipeline rupture in offshore oil operations,” commission staff wrote at the time.
Coastal commissioners called for the pipeline to be buried 10 feet below the seafloor, according to a copy of the 1979 staff report.
Yet Amplify Energy CEO Martyn Willsher told reporters the pipe wasn’t buried.
“It sits more on the seafloor than it is under the seafloor,” Willsher said at a Tuesday news conference.
At that same news conference, officials said the oil pipeline was moved and a 13-inch crack was found.
“Upon further investigation we determined that approximately 4,000 feet (of the pipeline) … has been displaced and has laterally been displaced by 105 feet,” said Coast Guard Cpt. Rebecca Ore.
It’s not the first time OC residents were left in the dark during a disaster.
Last December, Orange County officials cancelled weekly updates on the COVID-19 pandemic — during the height of the Winter wave that eventually killed at least 2,000 residents and stretched hospital staff thin.
After Supervisor Katrina Foley began hosting her own weekly updates, county officials brought back the official pandemic update a couple months ago — but it’s a short, weekly news briefing with reporters, one that doesn’t allow for many questions or follow ups and is not publicly broadcasted.