After nine months of hand-wringing politicians with deeply concerned faces in multiple briefings and photo ops, last year’s oil spill debacle ends with the predictable: A slap on the wrist for the offender and self-congratulatory huzzahs from the elected officials who are rejoicing over the end of a crisis.
The slap on the wrist is a fine of $956,352 for Amplify Energy, agreed to by four of the five county supervisors, with Andrew Do dissenting. According to Amplify’s March 9 press release on their fourth quarter for 2021, the company has $1 billion in oil reserves.
The settlement removes the county from the pending federal litigation, which means that no one will be penalized for criminal negligence. No one will go on trial for the destruction of private property.
If I were caught tagging the county courthouse, my punishment would be greater, proportionally, than the fine given to Amplify.
The local pols are rejoicing, trying to spin their failure into a win for all. “It’s a good settlement for the taxpayers because we got the work done, we responded quickly, we got the oil cleaned up – and we got reimbursed for doing all the work in less than a year.” That’s Supervisor Katrina Foley as quoted in the Orange County Register.
Eh, not so fast. The fine resolves nothing. This is merely a chance for the supervisors to exhale and move on to the next crisis, including the next oil spills, which have been a part of our lives since we allowed ocean drilling.
In addition to the fine, the supervisors should have insisted that Amplify establish a disaster relief fund – money set aside to provide immediate relief to shoreline businesses, and for clean-up after the next spill.
The fact is, the fine addresses the symptom, not the problem, which is two-fold.
First, the spill and the fine underscore our failure to make significant progress in reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. Yeah, we see a lot more Teslas and e-bikes on the street these days, but the fact is that our oil consumption is rising, not falling.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, “In 2021, the United States consumed an average of about 19.78 million barrels of petroleum per day, or a total of about 7.22 billion barrels of petroleum. This was an increase in consumption of about 1.6 million barrels per day over consumption in 2020.”
That increase is due, in part, to the return of our pre-pandemic habits, which highlights a tremendous lost opportunity here. The shift to remote work during the pandemic produced cleaner air and less congested highways in the county, among many other benefits. But instead of offering personal and business incentives to encourage remote work here in the county, the supervisors and other elected officials were doing everything possible to return to our pre-pandemic lives.
The increase in consumption is mostly due, however, to weak leadership, both here in Orange County and across the country. Good leadership would long ago have put us on the track to drastically reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. But as with any bureaucracy, the status quo always prevails.
Ultimately, the fault is ours. We keep electing the same type of person hoping for a different result, that is, hoping for change. When we don’t get change and these same people bungle the handling of the pandemic, or tell us we’re making progress on homelessness when we are not, or fail to properly punish those responsible for soiling our beaches and disrupting local commerce, we’re up in arms when we should be shrugging our shoulders at this business as usual.
Congratulations, supervisors. Give yourselves a hearty slap on the back the next time you’re stuck in traffic.
Steve Smith is a 35-year county resident, a former columnist for the Daily Pilot newspaper (15 years), and a contributor to several regional and national publications.
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