Oil on water

AMY TAXIN / Associated Press

A group of environmental organizations demanded Wednesday that the Biden administration suspend and cancel oil and gas leases in federal waters off the California coast after a recent crude oil spill.

The Center for Biological Diversity and about three dozen organizations sent a petition to the Department of the Interior, arguing it has the authority to end these leases. The groups say offshore drilling threatens wildlife, fisheries and tourism and the decades-old platforms off the coast of California are especially susceptible to problems due to their age.

The move comes several weeks after an undersea pipeline that shuttles oil from offshore platforms to the coast leaked about 25,000 gallons (94,635 liters) of crude into the ocean off Orange County.

“Federal officials have the power and the duty to stop the oil industry from killing our birds, fouling our beaches and polluting our climate,” Emily Jeffers, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “The Biden administration needs to bring the hammer down on offshore drilling in California’s federal waters.”

The department is required to respond to the petition, Jeffers said. If it doesn’t, she said the groups could take legal action.

The spill washed blobs of oil ashore affecting wildlife and the local economy, though the environmental damage so far has been less than initially feared. But environmental advocates say the long-term impact on sensitive wetland areas and marine life is unknown and shop owners in surf-friendly Huntington Beach fear concern about oil will keep tourists away even once the tar is gone.

Federal investigators are examining whether a 1,200-foot (366-meter) cargo ship that was dragging anchor in rough seas caught the pipeline operated by Houston-based Amplify Energy and pulled it across the seafloor early this year. They have not determined if the Panama-registered MSC DANIT caused the spill or if the line was hit by something else or failed due to a preexisting problem.

Officials are starting to wind down some of the clean-up efforts as conditions along the coastline have improved. While tar balls continue to wash up further south in San Diego County, beach clean up in some areas of Orange County could soon be deemed complete, said California Fish and Wildlife Lt. Christian Corbo.

Workers are scaling back efforts to scour the coastline for oiled wildlife, but will continue to respond to reports from the public of oiled birds, said Michael Ziccardi, director of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network. Six birds that were treated for oiling were released Wednesday along the shoreline and another six are still being cared for, he said, adding they will hopefully be released next week.

So far, the network has recovered 32 oiled birds and found 76 dead birds that will be studied to determine if oil was a cause, he said.

Fisheries remain closed off the coast of Orange County.