2012 3.6R Oil leak…how best to identify the way forward?

I haven’t had a chance to go to my mechanic and see if they can tell me which part is leaking, but I have found that the 2012 3.6R Limited Outback ~ 161,000 miles has had an oil leak. It’s significant enough to leave small drops in my garage, and I’d “guess” it to be about 1-1.5 quarts per 5K oil change interval consumption rate in the last 5-10k miles vs ” zero measurable oil used, unless I lay a lot” in the past. I’m not sure if this qualifies as “major” or “minor” given the things I’ve read, but it bothers me that I went from “almost zero” to “a quart or more per oil change” somewhat suddenly.

What I can see is that the bottom of the driver’s side of the engine looks wet with what appears to be oil, mostly around where the exhaust bolts are, as well as the frame, and all the pipes/tubes that are around that area as well as the frame / suspension parts behind the engine look wet (but I can’t tell more with it sitting on the ground). I don’t know what all the pipes/tubes are, if at all possible it could be something simple and cheap like a pipe that holds pressurized oil that flows (and then my biggest concern, some rubber hoses that separates and pumps all its oil onto the highway leading to big bad problems… is that possible or likely?)

I’ve read some people say maybe a hose or seal that wraps around something (cheap/easy), others say the PCV valve (which looks pretty rusty, afraid to try and do it myself, not sure if it’s ever been replaced) , and then other people say that the timing or valve covers I collect are expensive and difficult to make. My main concern is that I don’t want to save $100 now that I could have avoided a $1000 bill later, or ignore something that could suddenly fail on a trip. I would like to keep this car for many more years, and so far this oil leak is the most serious problem it has. If I have to go somewhere (dealer?) and spend $1,000-2,000 to make sure I get a reliable safe time to come in, I’m willing, but I also don’t want to drop a ton of money on it in vain. reason and risk breaking something else while removing and tearing into the otherwise running engine.

I’m wondering what specific things my mechanic (local “tire shop” who has been honest and reliable in working with me over the years) should look for when I go for my state inspection this month to figure out if this is it a “fix it” or “wait and see” thing? Easy things to try (I’m considering asking them to “just replace” the PCV valve because it’s cheap and some claims might help)?

I’m also thinking I might ask them to clean up the mess of oil that has now gotten all over the underside of the engine/frame/etc to make it easier to tell what’s going on in the future — but what? does this risk then “cleaning up” some dirt causing it to suddenly start leaking much worse?

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Photo: driver’s side, front=up, back=down
I cleaned what I could get to, in my untrained opinion it was “heaviest” in the enclosed area, but the frame/hanger further away is all too wet with oil (which I can’t get to clean with the machine on the ground ) and the black pipe/pipe in that area going forward seemed to have visible drips (I think that was actually what dripped onto my floor) that I can’t tell if it “happened” to run down the pipe or is there a connection? It’s hard to see, but it’s still visibly very wet at the rear hidden by the exhaust pipe, and the top of the frame parts are extremely wet when viewed from above (but I couldn’t get a good view).

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Photo: driver’s side, front=up, back=down
In the same area, I also noticed some black (dirt? wiped off?) on the other side of the exhaust bolt, which I think (not sure?) is the head gasket area – although I have no signs of any coolant wear or visible contamination there, no overheating, no other issues that I’m aware of, so I’m wondering if his oil has flown around and just burned and/or collected dirt since that whole area, the back of the engine on that side was covered in oil.

I also see what I wonder is a nut or two missing on the exhaust bolts on the engine now looking at these pics but I can’t imagine it’s related.

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