On October 2nd, 2021, Amplify Energy poured 126,000 gallons of crude into the Pacific Ocean just off the coast of Huntington Beach. The company who had been cited a whopping 72 times for violations of safety and environmental guidelines, was only fined $85,000 for the three incidents which caused the spill. The company's quarterly revenue in Q2 of 2021 was $80.39 million.
Initially, after the massive crude seeped into the ocean, beaches in the Southern California and Orange County area opened back up for a "soft opening" - meaning Huntington Beach and Orange County residents could relax on the sand, but not in the waves.
One week after the spill, Huntington Beach officials issued a statement that there were “non-detectable amounts of oil associated toxins" in the water and promptly opened back up their shores for all activities. Newport Beach hired a company called Eurofins Calscience to ten spots along their coastline. Two of the ten spots showed tar in the ocean . . . but not at toxic levels.
But, how toxic is "too toxic?" As of November 5th, fisheries in Huntington Beach remain closed and, according the U.S. News and World Report, only one third of the oily waste along the shoreline has been cleared. Additionally, since the October 2nd spill, clean up crews have removed over 500,000 pounds of tar balls slimy sand, oily seaweed, and toxic driftwood.
While serious health issues related to oil spills are usually most prevalent in workers who clean up spills (and, thus, are exposed to them more often than most), the general public should be aware of the dangers of exposure to these chemicals - both from water, from the land, or even from the air we breathe. Jamie Alan, associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Michigan State University, says, "Risks can be separated into some broad categories including lung damage, liver damage, cancer, reproductive risks, and eye, ear, and skin damage."
Huntington Beach surfer Teryn Joyce says, "It's annoying because I get those little black tar balls stuck to the bottoms of my feet and they're so hard to wash off." When asked if she is concerned about if the crude in the water will impact her health, she says, "I mean, it's not great, but I don't think it will kill me."
For surfers and beachgoers who are more concerned, weekly water quality results are available on the Huntington Beach website.