A 60-foot oil rig in Huntington Beach buckled and tipped on Monday afternoon during routine maintenance, forcing nearby residents to evacuate and turning off electricity to over 25 homes. The incident caused immediate concern amongst the anti-oil residents of Hermosa Beach and sparked a firestorm between activist Jeff Cohn and E & B Natural Resources, the prospective Hermosa Beach driller.
The incident occurred at approximately 1:30 p.m. on Monday at the oil rig at Walnut and 2nd Street in Huntington Beach. The Huntington Beach Fire Department responded and, because of the rig’s proximity to homes and power lines, they requested evacuations and power termination. The rig has now been removed.
At 5:34 p.m. Jeff Cohn, founder of the Stop Oil Drilling in Hermosa Beach website, sent a mass email asserting that the downed Huntington rig was owned by E & B.
“Here’s what we can look forward to if we make this big mistake!” the email read.
“This South Coast Oil Corporation site is now owned by E & B Natural Resources after the previous company went bankrupt,” Cohn said in a related article on his website.
E & B quickly fired back and denied ownership of the rig via a press release from Eric Rose of the lobbying firm, Englander, Knabe & Allen. The email blast was labeled as an “Urgent Media Advisory” with the subject line, “Jeff Cohn disseminates false information about Huntington Beach incident.”
“The equipment is not owned by E&B Natural Resources and the incident did not occur on their property,” it said.
“Despite the claims that apparently have been widely disseminated, E&B Natural Resources had nothing to do with the incident,” the press release said. “Sadly, this is another lie on the part of the anti-oil crowd. Instead of debating the merits of the project, they have resorted to sending out knowingly false statements.”
Cohn’s claim was based on oil site mapping by the California Department of Conservation that lists the site as being owned by South Coast Oil Corporation (SCOC).
According to Steve Layton, President of E & B Natural Resources, E & B purchased Angus, a subsidiary of SCOC, when SCOC filed for bankruptcy. However, Angus sites were just a portion of SCOC sites and the site where Monday’s accident occurred was not an Angus property.
“Angus has nothing to do with the property where this accident happened,” Layton said. “Nothing we own or ever have owned has anything to do with the accident site in any way, shape or form.”
“The first article I wrote saying that it was definitely owned by E & B was incorrect and I fixed that,” Cohn said in an interview Wednesday. He updated his website to pose questions regarding the relationship between E & B and SCOC with links to legal documents involving the two parties in SCOC’s bankruptcy proceedings.
Rose issued a second press release on Wednesday morning announcing that E & B’s attorneys had contacted Cohn threatening legal action.
“We represent E&B Natural Resources Management and are writing to demand a retraction, correction and apology for your repeated publication of false and defamatory statements regarding E&B’s involvement in an incident in Huntington Beach, California,” the letter read.
“E&B will continue to investigate the harmful impact of your wrongful and egregious actions, and will avail itself of all potential legal remedies to ensure that these false and defamatory statements cease and to ensure that E&B is compensated for its damages.”
For some Hermosa residents, the rig’s ownership is less significant than the implications this accident has for any rig built in a residential area.
“Whether or not the rig was an E & B operation, it’s still a rig in a residential neighborhood, which makes it relevant,” said George Schmeltzer, former Hermosa Beach councilman and anti-oil advocate.
Layton asserted that the Huntington rig is vastly different from proposed drill site in Hermosa.
“The site where the accident occurred was a town lot well, which sit between houses and are often only the size of one or two lots. They are well servicing rigs, not drilling rigs. The area at 6th and Valley [the proposed Hermosa drilling site] is much, much larger. Our rigs would never be anywhere close to that proximity to a home.”
Layton said that all of E & B’s sites in Huntington Beach are larger, consolidated drill sites like the proposed site in Hermosa, though the company does own town lot wells in Torrance.
In 2012, E & B stepped into the 13-year legal battle between Hermosa Beach and Macpherson Oil Company. Macpherson sued the city for damages after a public vote in 1995 banning oil drilling prevented the execution of a 1992 gas and oil lease the city awarded the oil company. E & B took over the lease in 2012 in an agreement that required the city to put the prospective oil drilling project to a public vote. The agreement requires the city pay E&B $17.5 million should public not approve the project.