‘Environmental catastrophe’: Massive oil spill off southern California coast shuts down beachfronts

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HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. (NewsNation Now) — A massive oil spill off the southern California coastline has prompted the closure of beachfront areas from the Huntington Beach Pier to Newport Beach.

Officials say at least 126,000 gallons of crude spilled into the waters off Orange County starting late Friday or early Saturday when boaters began reporting a sheen in the water.

Divers are still trying to determine where and why the leak occurred, but according to Amplify Energy CEO Martyn Willsher, the flow of oil was stopped late Saturday from the line that runs under the ocean off Huntington Beach.

The oil created a miles-wide sheen in the ocean and washed ashore in sticky, black globules.

Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr said the city’s famous beaches could remain closed for weeks or even months.

“This oil spill constitutes one of the most devastating situations that our community has dealt with in decades,” Carr said.  “We are doing everything in our power to protect the health and safety of our residents, our visitors and our natural habitats.”

The beachside city, about 40 miles south of Los Angeles, was bearing the brunt of the spill.

“In the coming days and weeks we challenge the responsible parties to do everything possible to rectify this environmental catastrophe,” Carr said.

Some birds and fish were caught in the muck and killed, said Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley. But the U.S. Coast Guard said there was a report of just one ruddy duck that was covered in oil and receiving veterinary care. “Other reports of oiled wildlife are being investigated,” the Coast Guard said in a statement.

The oil will likely continue to approach the Orange County coast, including Newport Beach to the south, over the next few days, officials said.

U.S. Representative Michelle Steel, a Republican representing part of the affected area, sent a letter to Democratic President Joe Biden requesting a major disaster declaration for Orange County, which would free up federal funds to help with the cleanup efforts.

Dr. Mary Dinsmore,  a conservation biologist and lecturer at Loyola University Chicago,  joined NewsNation to talk about some of the long term effects of this spill.

The spill has also prompted the cancellation of the final day of the Great Pacific Airshow. Officials say the decision to cancel the popular event was made so that the city, along with the U.S. Coast Guard and state agencies, could focus on the cleanup and investigation of the 126,000-gallon oil spill.

“In order to facilitate clean-up efforts, and given the potential health impacts, the decision has been made to cancel the final day of the show due to yesterday’s spill,” officials said in a statement. “We apologize for the inconvenience and thank you in advance for your understanding.”

The 5th annual air show began Friday morning at the Huntington Beach Pier and drew about 1.5 million visitors to the beach Saturday. The event was scheduled to run through Sunday afternoon.

“The city acknowledges the gravity of the decision to cancel the final day of the iconic Pacific Airshow, and the disappointment that this decision will cause,” officials stated. “However, the need for prompt and intensive intervention efforts requires complete and unfettered access to the marine environment.”

A person shows oil on their fingers after touching it on the beach in Huntington Beach, California on October 3, 2021, after a pipeline breach connected to an oil rig off shore started leaking oil, according to an Orange County Supervisor. (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)

The oil slick originated from a broken pipeline connected to an offshore oil platform known as Elly, Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley said on Twitter. Elly is connected by walkway to another platform, Ellen, located just over 8.5 miles off Long Beach, according to the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

The spill comes three decades after a massive oil leak hit the same stretch of Orange County coast. On Feb. 7, 1990, the oil tanker American Trader ran over its anchor off Huntington Beach, spilling nearly 417,000 gallons of crude. Fish and about 3,400 birds were killed.

In 2015, a ruptured pipeline north of Santa Barbara sent 143,000 gallons of crude oil gushing onto Refugio State Beach.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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