Amid Orange County oil spill cleanup, officials eye new potential culprit

A road sign reads, "OIL SPILL"
A sign marks the beach closure as oil from a major spill washes ashore at Huntington State Beach on Oct. 3, 2021.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, Oct. 5. I’m Justin Ray.

On Monday, we learned more about the devastating oil spill that has threatened Laguna Beach, Newport Beach and other cities along the Orange County coast.

The disaster has caused at least 126,000 gallons of oil to gush into the Catalina Channel, creating a slick that spanned about 8,320 acres. The oil will likely continue to encroach on beaches for the next few days, officials said. Many questions remain, including when California and federal officials learned about the incident, and how soon they acted. Here is the latest:

Ship anchor probed as possible cause

Officials say they’re investigating the possibility that a ship’s anchor might have struck a pipeline, causing the oil spill. However, not many additional details were released.

“We have examined more than 8,000 feet of pipe and we have isolated one specific area of significant interest,” Amplify Energy Chief Executive Martyn Willsher said. “There’s more information to come, but I think we’re moving very closely to the source and the cause of this incident.”


At a news conference, Laguna Beach and state officials also provided more details on efforts to manage the spill and its possible trajectory.

Who is behind the platform responsible for the spill?

Houston-based Amplify Energy Corp. is the owner of the offshore oil operation behind the spill.

It originated from a broken pipeline off the coast of Huntington Beach that runs from the Port of Long Beach to a production and processing platform called Elly (Beta Operating Co., a subsidiary of Amplify Energy, operates Elly).

Amplify emerged from bankruptcy just four years ago and has amassed a long record of federal noncompliance incidents and violations.

How O.C. oil spill compares to others


The full scope of this weekend’s oil spill has yet to be determined. But the 126,000 gallons of crude oil released makes it one of the largest in recent years in California. However, the size is still far less than several other catastrophic spills in the state and elsewhere.

LA Times Graphic

We discuss other historic oil incidents here.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

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Hollywood crews have voted overwhelmingly in favor of waging a strike if their union cannot agree to a new contract, setting the stage for an extraordinary showdown with the major studios. The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees said nearly 99% of those who cast ballots voted in favor of strike authorization. Union members representing some 60,000 film and TV workers have been casting their votes since Friday to authorize their leaders to call a strike if they can’t reach an agreement with producers on a new three-year contract. Los Angeles Times

Crystal Kan, a storyboard artist, draws pro-labor signs on cars of union members during a rally.
(Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

Young mother shot by Long Beach school officer to be taken off life support. The family of an 18-year-old mother who was left brain-dead after she was shot by a Long Beach school safety officer said she would be taken off life support in the next few days and called for the officer to be criminally charged in the case. Mona Rodriguez, the mother of a 5-month-old boy, will probably remain on life support while her body is prepared for organ donation, family members said. Los Angeles Times

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Palm Springs City Council votes to remove Frank Bogert statue. It was recently decided that the statue of Palm Springs’ former mayor sitting outside of City Hall will come down. As I wrote in a past newsletter, there had been a movement to remove the bronze work because it is seen as a painful reminder of the city’s legacy of racism. Others saw the statue as commemorating a person who was able to establish the city as a tourist hub. “There’s incredible pain in our community — generational pain because of the impacts of racism and the outcomes that still exist today,” said Palm Springs Mayor Christy Holstege. NBC Palm Springs

A California state park in Humboldt County will be renamed Sue-meg after the Indigenous Yurok tribe name for the area. The 5-0 vote marks the first time a California park was renamed as part of a statewide effort to identify and rectify derogatory names attached to parks and transportation systems, department officials said. Sara Barth, a parks commissioner from Pleasanton, called the move an “opportunity to right a historic wrong.” Los Angeles Times


Oakland nonprofit helps journalists land blockbuster series. You may have heard about a Wall Street Journal series about federal judges presiding over cases in which they have conflicts of interest. Well, what you may not know is that an Oakland nonprofit played a fundamental role in shaping that story. The Free Law Project had a database of judges and financial records that helped the paper’s journalist complete the project. Free Law Project

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Three black bear cubs rescued from fires burning in Northern California are keeping each other company at a wildlife rescue and burn center in Auburn. They will spend time together throughout the winter and will eventually be released in the spring. Bears often get burned during wildfires because their instinct is to climb a tree when there’s danger, a biologist said. The cubs had been kept in separate enclosures to recover from burns until very recently. They were very lonely, Gold Country Wildlife Rescue director Sallysue Stein said. Redding Record Searchlight


A data scientist revealed herself as the Facebook whistleblower. Frances Haugen was identified in a “60 Minutes” interview, as well as by the Wall Street Journal. The newspaper published a damning series about the company’s internal research that uncovered how the platform has turned a blind eye to its harm to users. Meanwhile, people on Facebook around the world reported Monday that they were unable to access its social-media apps, including the main social network, photo-sharing app Instagram and messaging service WhatsApp. Los Angeles Times

In ‘My Name is Pauli Murray,’ an unsung hero gets their roses. In a 91-minute biographical documentary now available on Amazon Prime Video, we learn about the life of civil rights trailblazer Pauli Murray. Directed by Betsy West and Julie Cohen, the film explains how Murray’s work was the backbone of many of the advances society enjoys today, including the ACLU’s 2020 Supreme Court victory declaring that LGBTQ discrimination violates federal workplace laws and the high court’s 1971 ruling that women can be victims of sex discrimination. Capital and Main

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Today’s California memory is from Christina Arrostuto:

Most of us raised in San Francisco’s North Bay Area in the 1960s were working class. For Vallejo kids, summer meant glorious freedom to roam and play until the street lights came on, with occasional day trips around the Bay. We’d set off for inner tubing at Conn Dam in Napa, roaming fog-kissed Muir Woods, or abalone diving by Ft. Bragg. If we saved, there would be a whole glorious week at Russian River, Cobb Mountain or Clear Lake. Endless sunny days and warm starry nights with, as Chuck Berry put it, no particular place to go. Who needed theme parks, water slides, fancy resorts? We made our own fun in San Francisco’s backyard, the North Bay Area.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

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