Federal Court Orders Lawsuit To Proceed After A 2021 Oil Spill In Huntington Beach, California, Killed Wildlife & Damaged Beaches

A federal court recently allowed a lawsuit challenging the failure of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to review outdated plans for offshore oil platforms near Huntington Beach to proceed. The judge rejected the Biden administration’s attempt to dismiss the case on the grounds that the court did not have jurisdiction to hear it.

The Center for Biological Diversity filed the lawsuit last year, after a major oil spill linked to Platform Elly in the region caused significant damage to wildlife and beaches.

The decision comes just days after Amplify Energy, the company operating the pipeline that was the source of the spill, announced its intent to restart drilling operations in the area. Amplify’s offshore platforms, located in an area known as the Beta Unit, were temporarily shut down following the spill.

“This is an important victory in the fight to protect our coast from the dangers of offshore drilling,” Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center, said in a statement. “I am glad the court rejected the Biden administration’s baseless attempt to protect oil companies using decaying rigs to drill under decades-old plans. The law clearly requires the agency to review these plans, but it’s blowing off that obligation even after a devastating oil spill.”

The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act requires BOEM to review and revise drilling plans based on new information or changes in operations. The goal is to ensure that offshore drilling operations do not cause serious harm to the environment, people, wildlife, or compromise national security.

In its motion to dismiss the case, BOEM argued that these reviews are discretionary and not legally required. The decision from Judge Christina Snyder of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California rejected this argument, ruling that the agency does have a legal obligation to review the plans.

The Beta Unit’s platforms were scheduled to be decommissioned more than a decade ago, but drilling has continued. Despite the discovery of new relevant information, including safety violations, advanced oil spill risk analysis, and an increase in vessel traffic in the area, federal regulators have not required updated versions of the plans.

“Allowing these decaying rigs to keep drilling for oil is tempting fate every day. While the federal government does nothing, the communities and wildlife on the coast risk paying the price for the next devastating oil spill,” concluded Monsell. “We are going to keep fighting to safeguard our ocean from these corroding remnants.”

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