‘Major’ oil spill off California coast threatens wetlands and wildlife


A pipeline failure off the coast of Orange County, Calif., Spilled at least 126,000 gallons of oil into the Pacific Ocean on Saturday, creating a 13-square-mile slick that continued to grow on Sunday. , officials said.

Dead fish and birds washed up on the shore in some spots as cleanup crews rushed to try and contain the spill, creating a slick that stretched from Huntington Beach to Newport Beach.

It was not immediately clear what caused the leak, which officials said occurred three miles off the coast of Newport Beach and involved a failure of a 17.5-mile pipeline connected to a offshore oil platform called Elly, operated by Beta Offshore.

The spill prompted authorities to close the beaches of Huntington Beach, where the third day of the annual Pacific Airshow was canceled on sunday, a day after about 1.5 million people gathered by the ocean to watch the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds.

Officials said Sunday morning they were assessing the extent of the damage as oil continued to drip into the water. Mayor Kim Carr of Huntington Beach told a press conference Sunday afternoon that the spill was “one of the most devastating situations our community has faced in decades.”

Ms Carr said city officials had not received confirmation that the spill had been capped. Martyn Willsher, managing director of Amplify Energy Corp., owner of Beta Offshore, later said at a separate press conference in Long Beach, Calif., That the pipeline had been “sucked” at both ends and the The spill may have peaked at around 126,000 gallons.

“I don’t expect it to be more,” he said. “It’s the capacity of the entire pipeline. “

The Elly site, he added, has two production platforms and a processing platform of around 70 wells. The platforms are at the top a rich oil reserve in federal waters managed by the Home Office. All platforms have been closed, Mr Willsher said.

Beaches in Huntington Beach will be closed until further notice, Ms Carr said on Sunday afternoon, adding that it was too early to say how long they would be closed.

The clean-up efforts were led by the Coast Guard, while in Huntington Beach the local response focused in part on “preventing an environmental disaster by mitigating the impacts of oil on our precious wetlands and wildlife.” Ms. Carr said.

She said “the responsible parties” to blame for the spill should “do everything possible to rectify this environmental catastrophe.” She added that officials were considering measures “to ensure they are held accountable.”

Earlier Sunday, Carr said the equivalent of 3,000 barrels of post-production crude oil had spilled into the ocean since the situation was first reported around 9 a.m. local time on Saturday. More than 2,000 feet of dams were deployed in an attempt to contain the slick, Carr said.

“At the moment, we advise people to stay out of the water,” Ms. Carr said.

The oil slick seemed to seep into the Talbert Marsh, a 25-acre ecological reserve across from Huntington State Beach that’s home to dozens of bird species, officials said.

“The impact on the environment is irreversible,” Katrina Foley, Orange County supervisor, said at Saturday night’s press conference.

Eric McCoy, chief of marine safety for the Huntington Beach Fire Department, said on Saturday that officials had used a plane to assess the size and location of the slick.

“Obviously, the potential for significant environmental damage still exists,” Chief McCoy said at the press conference, noting that the US Coast Guard had classified the slick as a “major spill”.

In a letter Rep. Michelle Steel, a Republican who represents much of Orange County, on Sunday asked President Biden to release a major disaster statement in response to the spill.

“It is imperative that the federal government contribute to recovery efforts,” Ms. Steel wrote. “Voters who live along the shore are already reporting oil on the beach and strong odors. Dead fish and birds are already reported on beaches and shores. “

The Coast Guard did not provide new details on Sunday, but said in a joint statement with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife on Saturday that “the cause of the spill, the volume and type of oil are under investigation.” Agencies have informed the public that they do not need volunteers to help with the cleanup, saying this could hamper response.

The initial report of the spill arrived early Saturday morning, the Coast Guard said.

Newport Beach officials have urged people to avoid contact with seawater and oiled areas of the beach.

“Unfortunately, the size and potential impact of this oil spill is forcing people to stay out of the water and avoid contact with oil,” Newport Beach Mayor Brad Avery said in a statement, adding that ” the city’s top priority is ensuring the safety of our residents and visitors during the cleanup effort.

Environmental groups said the spill underscored the need for the state of California to move away from fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy. Laura Deehan, state director of Environment California, said in a statement Sunday that the spill was “a stark and grim reminder that oil is dirty, dangerous and can make our air and water too toxic for life.”

The spill was not the first of its kind to endanger the Californian coastline. In 2015, the Refugio spill near Santa Barbara, the state’s worst in decades, sent more than 100,000 gallons of crude oil spilling primarily into the ocean after an onshore pipeline ruptured. A $ 22 million settlement was finalized in October 2020 to restore natural resources damaged by the spill.

And in 2007, a ship that slipped a rack across the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge sent nearly 60,000 gallons into the water, the worst spill in this region in decades.

A three million gallon spill off Santa Barbara in 1969 has been credited with helping spark the modern environmental movement. Environmentalists point out that oil spills can kill thousands of animals, costing tens of millions of dollars to clean up and contaminate beaches for months.

Cottie Petrie-Norris, a state congresswoman who represents part of Huntington Beach, said on Saturday the spill was troubling.

“In all of our partners, we recognize the gravity of this situation,” she said. “We are and will continue to fight against this with all our collective resources. “

Alyssa Lukpat contributed report.

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