One of the largest oil spills in recent Southern California history affected popular beaches that could end up closed for months as crews scrambled Sunday to contain the oil before it spread further into protected wetlands.
Divers were trying to determine where and why the leak occurred, but the flow of oil stopped Saturday night from the pipeline that runs under the ocean off Huntington Beach, according to the head of the company that operates the line.
At least 126,000 gallons (572,807 liters) of crude spilled into Orange County waters as of Friday night or early Saturday when boaters began to report a glow in the water, authorities said.
“I don’t expect it to be more. That’s the capacity of the entire pipeline, ”said Martyn Willsher, CEO of Amplify Energy. He said the pipeline was sucked out and dozens of nearby oil rigs operated by Amplify were shut down.
It was one of the largest oil spills in recent Southern California history, littering the beach in Huntington Beach, the city known as Surf City USA. Crews were quick to contain the oil before it spread further into protected wetlands.
Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr said the city’s famous beaches could be closed for weeks or even months.
“In a year that has been filled with incredibly challenging problems, this oil spill constitutes one of the most devastating situations our community has faced in decades,” Carr said. “We are doing everything in our power to protect health. and the safety of our residents, our visitors, and our natural habitats. “
The oil created a kilometer-wide glow in the ocean and washed ashore as sticky black globules.
@HB_Surf_City in partnership with the county to order beach and water closures from HB Pier to River Jetty
-Avoid swimming, surfing or exercising on the beach today. -It is not safe to fish in the piers, bridges or piers. Please avoid. -protect your animals from oil pic.twitter.com/Cbkyv1BGo8
– Supervisor Katrina Foley (@SupervisorFoley) October 3, 2021
Some birds and fish were trapped in the mud and died, Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley said. But the US Coast Guard said there was a report that only one reddish duck was covered in oil and received veterinary care. “Other reports of contaminated wildlife are being investigated,” the Coast Guard said in a statement.
Crews led by the Coast Guard deployed skimmers and some 3,700 feet (1,128 meters) of floating barriers known as barriers to try to stop further incursion into areas like Talbert Marsh, a 25-acre (10-hectare) wetland in Huntington Beach, the officials said. authorities. .
A stench of oil permeated the air throughout the area.
“You can taste the taste in your mouth only with the vapors in the air,” Foley said.
Oil is likely to continue to approach the Orange County coast, including Newport Beach to the south, over the next several days, authorities said.
The closure included all of Huntington Beach, from the city’s north end about 6 miles (9.6 kilometers) south to the Santa Ana River Pier. The closure came amid summery weather that would have drawn large crowds to the wide beach to play volleyball, swimming and surfing. Yellow caution tape was hung between the lifeguard towers to keep people away.
Authorities canceled the last day of the annual Pacific Air Show that typically draws tens of thousands of spectators to Huntington Beach, a city of about 199,000 residents about 30 miles (48 kilometers) south of downtown Los Angeles. The show featured flybys of the US Navy Blue Angels and the US Air Force Thunderbirds.
The oil slick originated from a pipeline connected to an offshore oil rig known as Elly, Foley said on Twitter. Elly is connected by a walkway to another platform, Ellen, located about 14 kilometers (8.5 miles) from Long Beach, according to the federal Office of Safety and Environmental Compliance.
Foley said Newport Beach Mayor Brad Avery told him he came across the oil slick while traveling back to the mainland from Santa Catalina Island. “Saw dolphins swimming through oil,” Foley tweeted.
Huntington Beach resident David Rapchun said he is concerned about the impact of the spill on the beaches where he grew up, as well as the local economy.
“For the amount of oil these things produce, I don’t think it’s worth the risk,” said Rapchun. “I’m sure they have long-term leases, but things can change.”
He wondered if drilling for oil was a good idea on some of Southern California’s most scenic beaches, noting that the loss of the last day of the airshow could deal a blow to the local economy.
“We need oil, but there is always a question: Do we need it there?” He asked himself.
The spill comes three decades after a massive oil leak hit the same stretch of the Orange County coastline. On February 7, 1990, the American Trader tanker ran over its anchor off Huntington Beach, spilling nearly 417,000 gallons (1.6 million liters) of crude. Fish and some 3,400 birds were killed.
In 2015, a ruptured pipeline north of Santa Barbara sent 143,000 gallons (541,313 liters) of crude oil that gushed into Refugio State Beach.
At a news conference Saturday night, Orange County officials expressed concern about the environmental impacts of the spill and hoped crews would be able to stop the oil before it flowed into sensitive wetlands.
“We have been working with our federal, state and county partners to mitigate the impact that could be a potential ecological disaster,” said Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr.
The area is home to threatened and endangered species, including a plump shorebird called the Snowy Plover, the California Common Tern and humpback whales, a fishing industry and migratory birds on the Pacific flyway.
“The coastal areas of Southern California are really rich in wildlife, a biodiversity hotspot,” said Miyoko Sakashita, director of the oceans program at the Center for Biological Diversity.
The effects of an oil spill are wide-ranging, environmentalists said. Birds with oil on their feathers cannot fly, cannot clean themselves and cannot control their own temperatures, Sakashita said. Whales, dolphins and other sea creatures can have trouble breathing or die after swimming in oil or breathing toxic gases, he said.
“The oil spill shows how dirty and dangerous the extraction of oil is and the oil that gets into the water. It is impossible to clean it, so it ends up on our beaches and people come into contact with it and wildlife comes into contact with it, ”he said. “It has long-lasting effects on animal husbandry and reproduction. It is really sad to see this large sample oiled. “