TimesOC: FBI joins investigation into O.C. oil spill

"Sign up for our TimesOC newsletter" and the L.A. Times logo over the Huntington Beach Pier at sunset.
TimesOC, a newsletter about Orange County, is published Wednesdays and Fridays.
(Los Angeles Times)

Good morning and welcome to the TimesOC newsletter.

It’s Friday, Oct. 15. I’m Ben Brazil, bringing you the latest roundup of Orange County news and events.

The fallout of the Huntington Beach oil spill continued this week as the Federal Bureau of Investigation joined the investigation to determine whether any criminal violations occurred, and several Orange County businesses filed legal complaints against Amplify Energy Corp.

The FBI announced Thursday that it will be investigating the massive leak along with a host of state and federal agencies.

Officials have provided a significantly wide-range estimate for the oil leak: between 24,696 and 131,000 gallons.

Reporter Richard Winton noted in his article that the U.S. Coast Guard, California attorney general’s office and Orange County district attorney’s office are already conducting criminal probes of the spill. However, none of the agencies have acknowledged serving search warrants or subpoenas related to the oil leak.

The Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board, which is providing assistance with the investigation, believe that a ship’s anchor broke the casing of the pipe sometime over the last year, eventually causing a 13-inch crack to form.

Winton said that Amplify Energy Chief Executive Martyn Willsher hasn’t been forthcoming with crucial information about the hours leading up to the leak, providing vague responses and making claims that conflict with state and federal records.

A contracted cleanup crew fill and remove bags of crude oil that spilled into the Huntington Beach Wetlands.
(Don Leach / Daily Pilot)

Also this week, my colleague Sara Cardine wrote about a number of legal complaints that have been filed by Orange County businesses and residents against Amplify Energy.

She wrote that a complaint filed Monday on behalf of Costa Mesa’s Ketcham Tackle is seeking the certification of a class action lawsuit for businesses in Orange, Los Angeles and San Diego counties.

“The conduct of each defendant was a substantial factor in causing and exacerbating the breach, and consequently in causing damage to the communities and businesses which are along the coast and depend upon the ocean and shoreline for their livelihoods,” the complaint says.

Another lawsuit filed Oct. 5 on behalf of Hill’s Boat Service in Newport Harbor alleges that the company lost revenue from the oil spill due to the premature closure of the immensely popular Pacific Airshow and the closure of the harbor. Cardine wrote that several other lawsuits have been filed on behalf of Orange County residents alleging lost wages and other negative impacts.

But not everything is terrible.

This week, birds harmed by the oil spill were released back into the wild after being cleaned and rehabilitated.

Two birds are released back into the wild after being rehabilitated following the O.C. oil spill.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)


Critical race theory continues to be a contentious topic in Orange County. This week, the Placentia-Yorba Linda school board discussed a ban on the school material as activists held a rally to call on the board to reject the ban. My colleague Gabriel San Román wrote that the Republican Party of Orange County is leading the effort against CRT.

Homeless students have been hit hard by the pandemic, suffering from lack of access to food, shelter, internet and other necessities for learning remotely. School on Wheels has been working to provide one-on-one tutoring for the 120 homeless children it serves in Orange County. In particular, an Irvine volunteer with the nonprofit wrote a children’s book and will be donating the proceeds to purchase school supplies for the children.

Elm trees have special mythological significance in some cultures. In Newport Beach, they are a nuisance. A resident tried hard to have a Siberian elm that grows on city property beside her yard removed, claiming its roots are damaging her home. But she was ultimately unsuccessful. The tree will not leave.

A plant extract that can be bought at specialty stores could play a role in combating the opioid epidemic. UC Irvine researchers found that when YHS, the extract of the plant Corydalis yanhusuo, was administered with morphine, it inhibited dependence, addiction and tolerance in animals. Researchers hope the extract could be used to help ween people off of dangerous opioids.

The pandemic’s fourth wave may be nearing its end as Orange County’s COVID-19 hospitalizations remain stable. However, Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, deputy county health officer, is concerned that the holiday season could usher in another wave of infections.

The 1890 El Toro Grammar School decorated for Fall-O-Ween.
(Courtesy of OC Parks)


An Orange restaurant is donating part of its proceeds to help with the cleanup of the oil spill. My colleague Sarah Mosqueda wrote that the seafood restaurant O Sea decided to dedicate some of its contributions to the Surfrider Foundation to oil spill cleanup because it felt that it couldn’t just sit by and offer a seafood menu while ocean creatures struggled for their lives miles away.

Lake Forest’s Heritage Hill Historical Park is getting in the holiday spirit with Fall-O-Ween, where visitors can tour the historical grounds, get lost in a hay maze and take part in a scavenger hunt. The event marks a pivot from the historical park’s previous events, which tended to be scarier. This year’s event is for the whole family, including pets.

With a bit of fall chill in the air, there’s nothing better to eat right now than a hot bowl of ramen. Food writer Edwin Goei reviewed three new ramen spots in Orange County that opened just in time for the cold weather.

Newport Harbor celebrates against Edison in girls' volleyball.
(Don Leach / Daily Pilot)


Newport Harbor girls’ volleyball swept Edison this week to claim the Wave League title. This is Newport Harbor’s first winning season since 2012.

Corona del Mar girls’ tennis edged Huntington Beach in a Surf League showdown. This was the first step for the Sea Kings in taking back the league title. They are in a prime position to do that sitting in first place.

Here’s a high school roundup of sports from Orange County coastal cities, including Marina girls’ tennis claiming a win over Fountain Valley in a Wave League match. Laguna Beach girls’ volleyball also blanked Los Alamitos and Costa Mesa girls’ golf roundly defeated Katella.

The Huntington Beach coastline in 1940 was a forest of oil derricks.
(Ted Hurley)


Columnist Patrice Apodaca believes it’s time to end offshore oil drilling. The Huntington Beach oil spill was the last straw. “We’re told that that there are seven stages of grief, but anger has infinite varieties, and I’ve cycled through many of them in the past several days,” Apodaca wrote. “The bottom line is that I’m mad as hell about the oil spill, and I think everyone else should be too.”

Question of the Week

Orange County is a big, diverse community with a bustling entertainment and tourist industry. Yet the county has major hurdles to overcome — homelessness, climate change, political corruption and law enforcement misconduct. Oh, and a pandemic. We want to hear your opinions on these subjects!

Each week, we’ll ask you a new question and post some of the answers in the following newsletter.

Now for this week’s question (please keep your answer to 75 words or less):

The pandemic has caused many to stop using public transit due to risk of getting the virus. Are you comfortable using public transportation in Orange County? Why or why not?

Send your answer to Ben at

Stay in Touch

If you have a memory or story about Orange County, we would love to read it (please keep your story to 100 words or less).

We want your help in making this the best newsletter it can be. Send any tips or comments to or

Keep up with community news on our Orange County page. Follow us on Twitter at @timesocofficial.

Did someone forward you this? Sign up here to get the TimesOC newsletter in your inbox, or invite a friend or family member to join.