Suit: Agencies fail to protect marine species from oil

LOS ANGELES – A conservation group says in a lawsuit the US government failed to protect whales and other endangered animals by underestimating the potential for an oil spill like a recent pipeline leak of crude oil off the coast of California.

The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit in federal court on Wednesday claiming that Department of the Interior agencies and the National Marine Fisheries Service had failed to ensure that offshore oil and gas production would not endanger endangered and threatened species under US law.

The lawsuit says the Service found in a 2017 analysis that oil and gas production was unlikely to adversely affect endangered marine life off the California coast, that there was a low likelihood of an oil spill at sea and, if it does, it would probably involve no more than 8,400 gallons (31,800 liters). The lawsuit asks the court to void the analysis and ban further oil activity unless government agencies comply with the law protecting endangered species.

In October, an offshore pipeline leaked 25,000 gallons (94,600 liters) of crude into waters off Southern California. The spill was not as large as initially feared, but shut down beaches for a week and fishing 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 the oiled marine mammals in the spill are threatened or endangered species.

This is the latest in a series of lawsuits filed over the spill off the coast of Orange County. Last year, a federal grand jury accused the pipeline operator of ignoring alarms alerting workers to the pipeline rupture.

The Department of the Interior, Office of Ocean Energy Management and the National Marine Fisheries Service declined to comment on the lawsuit. A message has been left with the Office of Safety and Environment.

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