Southern California oil spill highlights folly of relying on dirty fossil fuels

Clean energy sources avoid major environmental risks

SAN FRANCISCO – The massive oil spill off the southern coast of California highlights the folly of continuing to rely on dirty fossil fuel energy sources that worsen the climate crisis, underscoring the need to shift to clean power that avoids such environmental risks.

“California just went through a summer that witnessed some of the worst impacts of the climate crisis caused by burning fossil fuels, and now we have another disaster foisted on us by the oil industry,” said Environmental Working Group President and California resident Ken Cook.

“Oil-soaked beaches and all the irreversible damage this spill has and will cause could happen again, as long as offshore drilling is allowed to continue,” Cook said.

“The only way to avoid future spills is for the U.S. to move quickly to clean, renewable energy to fuel our cars and power our homes and immediately prohibit any further drilling off the West Coast,” he added.

The spill, first reported in early October, has released more than 25,000 gallons of crude oil into the ocean and fouled miles of Orange County’s coastline. Initial reports had estimated the amount of oil released to be far higher at more than 140,000 gallons. It’s believed to have started when an anchor hit and ruptured an underwater oil pipeline.

California’s Department of Justice announced last week it will investigate the cause of the spill, including whether it could have been prevented, according to NPR. But even as that review begins, it’s not too early to draw conclusions about the dangers of oil.

Once again, the energy infrastructure for dirty fossil fuel sources has proven to be highly susceptible to damage, with catastrophic consequences.

From the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, in 2010, to the hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil spilled after a tanker ran aground in Port Sulphur, Texas, in 2000, the evidence is abundant: Oil is dirty, unsafe and not worth the cost of harm to the environment following a spill.

The oil and gas sector is an industry in decline, a high-polluting and withering-profit business that does more harm than good. The carbon emissions from oil extraction and transportation add to the climate emergency. But perfectly viable clean energy power alternatives exist, such as solar and other renewable sources.

The California spill is the latest example of why the U.S. must quickly shift away from fossil fuels as a source of energy, said Cook.

“Inadequate infrastructure, treacherous transportation and calamitous climate harms – what’s not to dislike about oil? The dangerous and antiquated U.S. fossil fuel infrastructure needs to be replaced swiftly with clean, renewable power,” he added.

There are 23 oil platforms off the coast of Southern California and 200 miles of underwater pipeline that delivers oil to refineries onshore. Only 12 are still in operation, and a handful of others are being decommissioned, according to The New York Times.

The rigs and the pipelines are decades old and have not been adequately maintained, creating the potential for environmental hazards like the California spill.

The pipeline that burst is owned and operated by Houston-based Amplify Energy Corp. The company, which recently came out of bankruptcy, has “amassed a long record of federal noncompliance incidents and violations,” says an October 4 Los Angeles Times report.

According to a letter sent to Amplify Energy’s president from a top pipeline safety official at the Department of Transportation, the company waited more than three hours to shut down the pipeline after getting an alert saying it was damaged.

“From oil tankers colliding or running aground to pipeline blowouts, there are too many ways that outdated and badly maintained oil infrastructure can cause significant environmental harms – dangers that are entirely preventable by shifting to solar, wind and other renewable power sources that don’t pose such risks,” said Cook.

In the wake of the California spill, EWG is also warning about the potential hazards of using dispersants to help with cleanup operations.

Studies show that the chemicals used to break up oil in the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe may have had the opposite effect, possibly preventing the breakdown of oil from microorganisms and failing to effectively prevent it from reaching the surface.

Many workers who helped clean up the BP disaster off the Gulf Coast suffered serious and long-term health problems, which scientists believe were caused by exposure to those dispersant chemicals.

Chemical ingredients used in dispersants and other products may also increase the production of fat cells, which in turn may raise the risk of obesity in people exposed, according to a 2016 peer-reviewed study led by Alexis Temkin, Ph.D., an EWG toxicologist and expert on the environmental and public health impacts of dispersants.


The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action. Visit for more information.

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