Conservation group sues U.S. agencies, saying they fail to protect marine species from oil

A bird pecks at a dead fish on the sand as two other birds hover nearby.
A bird pecks at a dead fish after the oil spill near Huntington Beach in October.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
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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 such as the 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 fisheries 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, that there was a low likelihood of an offshore oil spill and that if one occurred, it would likely involve no more than 8,400 gallons. 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 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.

As the Earth warms and the drought deepens, a network of biologists and conservationists are racing to rescue California’s most threatened species.

Aug. 18, 2021

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 and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management declined to comment on the suit. Messages were left for the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.