Who is responsible for an oil spill here? Ask the Lawyer – Daily Breeze


Question: California has experienced a number of oil spills and the consequences can be very dire. Who is responsible for an oil spill and what damage?

BC, Seal Beach

Ron Sokol

A: When an oil spill occurs, the parties involved are often the pipeline and / or the offshore oil rig. However, the recent Huntington Beach spill may also bring in a ship, as it appears a specific ship’s anchor struck a pipeline and may have cracked it. Research also suggests that some environmental groups will sue the federal government over the Huntington Beach situation, arguing that it has not reviewed and updated plans for the platforms off the coast. Ultimately, the circumstances of a particular oil spill will lead to the party or parties against whom the claims are being made.

The damages that can be claimed are varied and include clean-up costs, damage to natural resources, losses to businesses, injuries to persons and losses to the government concerned. Under the Federal Oil Pollution Act of 1990, strict liability applies, which means you don’t have to prove improper conduct to get damages. Additionally, California has basic tort theories, so if negligence is found, damages can also be recovered on that basis.

Question: Are there laws that really seek to prevent oil spills?

JJ, Ventura

A: After the disastrous Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (mentioned above). It both streamlined and strengthened the ability of the Environmental Protection Act to prevent and respond to catastrophic oil spills. Additionally, a trust fund is funded by an oil tax and is available to clean up spills when the responsible party is unable or unwilling to do so. Also note that the federal government may seek civil and criminal penalties against the offender (s), which is intended to deter spills. Government vessel regulations also require hull sizes designed to prevent oil spills.

Earlier this year, a new California law came into effect that doubles the existing minimum and maximum fines for certain oil spill violations related to, among other things, people who knowingly engage or cause the oil spill or spill in the waters, or who knowingly do not begin cleaning up spilled oil.

This is not an exhaustive answer to your question, but gives you an idea of ​​some of the measures at hand.

Report an oil spill

To report a release or spill, contact the federal government’s central reporting center, the National Response Center, at 1-800-424-8802.

Ron Sokol has been a practicing lawyer for over 35 years and has also served on several occasions as an Interim Judge, Mediator and Arbitrator. It is important to keep in mind that this column presents a summary of the law and should not be treated or taken as legal advice, let alone a substitute for genuine consultation with a qualified professional.

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