Suit: Agencies fail to protect marine species from oil

January 26, 2022 GMT

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A conservation group says in a lawsuit that the U.S. government failed to protect endangered whales and other animals by underestimating the potential for an oil spill like a recent crude pipeline leak off California’s coast.

The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit in federal court Wednesday saying Interior Department agencies and the National Marine Fisheries Service didn’t ensure offshore oil and gas production wouldn’t jeopardize endangered and threatened species in accordance with U.S. law.

The lawsuit says the Service found in a 2017 analysis that oil and gas production wouldn’t likely have an adverse effect on threatened marine life off California’s coast, there was a low likelihood of an offshore oil spill and if one occurred, it would likely involve no more than 8,400 gallons (31,800 liters). The suit asks the court to vacate the analysis and bar new oil activity unless government agencies comply with the law protecting endangered species.

In October, an offshore pipeline leaked 25,000 gallons (94,600 liters) of crude into the waters off Southern California. The spill was not as large as initially feared but shuttered beaches for a week and fisheries for more than a month and left more than 100 animals, mostly birds, covered in oil.

Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said researchers have not confirmed that any marine mammals oiled in the spill were threatened or endangered species.

It is the latest in a series of lawsuits filed over the spill off the coast of Orange County. Last year, a federal grand jury charged the pipeline operator with failing to heed alarms alerting workers to the break in the pipeline.

The Interior Department, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and National Marine Fisheries Service declined to comment on the suit. A message was left for the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.