Spill From Damaged Oil Pipeline Fouls California Beaches

LONG BEACH, California, October 4, 2021 (ENS) – The anchor of a ship approaching or leaving a major port on the southern California coast may have struck an oil pipeline on the ocean floor, causing a major leak of crude oil, authorities said today. In a press briefing, Coast Guard officials said cargo ships entering the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach routinely pass through the area.

The offshore oil production pipeline has leaked 3,111 barrels of crude oil, or about 127,000 gallons. The spill, some five miles off the coasts of popular Newport Beach and Huntington Beach, was found on Saturday morning.

A unified command is taking action to ensure the safety of the public and response personnel, to control the source and recover spilled materials, to maximize the protection of environmentally sensitive areas and minimize impact to maritime commerce, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

Capt. Rebecca Ore, commanding officer of U.S. Coast Guard Sector Los Angeles/Long Beach, assesses water and shoreline impacts along the Orange County coast, October 3, 2021. (Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard)

Cleanup efforts are underway and divers have been inspecting the pipeline, looking for the exact source of the spill, but the leak appears to have stopped, officials said Monday. Officials said that the affected beaches could be closed for weeks, and possibly for months, for cleanup efforts.

The City of Huntington Beach said in a statement Sunday that it has determined that the company responsible for the oil spill is Beta Offshore, a California subsidiary of Houston-based Amplify Energy Corporation.

The 17-mile-long pipeline leaked 3,111 barrels, about 127,000 gallons, of crude oil into the Pacific Ocean, Amplify Energy’s CEO Martyn Willsher said.

Willsher said that on Saturday, October 2, its subsidiary company Beta Offshore first observed and notified the U.S. Coast Guard of an oil sheen four miles off the coast in Southern California and initiated its Oil Spill Prevention and Response Plan.

The company has sent a remotely operated underwater vehicle to investigate and attempt to confirm source of the release. As a precautionary measure, all of the company’s production and pipeline operations at the Beta Field have been shut down. Willsher said the pipeline has been suctioned to ensure that no more oil would spill into the ocean.

Amplify Energy is working cooperatively with the unified command, consisting of the U.S. Coast Guard and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response, as well as the beachfront cities affected.

Fourteen boats conducted oil recovery operations Sunday afternoon. Three Coast Guard boats enforced a safety zone off 1,000 yards around oil spill boats. Approximately 3,150 gallons of oil have been recovered from the water and 5,360 feet of containment boom has been deployed.

Four aircraft were dispatched for overflight assessments. Shoreside response was conducted by 105 government agency personnel.

“In a year filled with very difficult challenges, this oil leak represents one of the most tragic crises our community has faced in decades,” said Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr.

Mayor Carr mourned the loss of the clean beaches, bays and marshes. “In a year filled with very difficult challenges, this oil leak represents one of the most tragic crises our community has faced in decades,” she said.

She sees the potential for the spill to become an “environmental catastrophe” and an “ecological disaster.”

Officials expect the oil to continue washing up on Orange County beaches over the next few days.

Although there were no early reports of marine mammals being harmed, Krysta Higuchi, spokesperson for the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in nearby Laguna Beach, said the marine mammals generally suffer the effects of the oil days after a spill has occurred.

“The primary creatures harmed at the moment are birds,” she explained. “The Pacific marine mammal facility is currently on alert. This is a marathon, not a sprint. All hands are on deck. We’re bracing for the worst-case scenario while hoping for the best.”

Talbert Marsh, a Huntington Beach ecological reserve that is inhabited by dozens of bird species, has been contaminated by the spilled oil.

The Director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife Sunday declared a fishery closure for coastal areas affected by the oil spill. Fishing in the vicinity of the spill may include recreational, commercial, subsistence fishing, and aquaculture operations.

Take of all fish and shellfish is immediately prohibited from Huntington Beach to Dana Point, including the shorelines and offshore areas and all bays due to the oil spill. The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment has determined that a threat to public health is likely by fishing in the affected area or consuming fish or shellfish that may have been affected by the spill and recommended this fishery closure to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

City beaches will remain open to the public with a water advisory in place. Newport Harbor remains open for boating and general recreational use. Huntington Beach cancelled Day 3 of the Pacific Airshow in response to the spill.

“Unfortunately, the size and potential impact of this oil spill make it necessary for people to stay out of the water and avoid contact with the oil,” said Newport Beach Mayor Brad Avery. “The city’s top priority is to ensure the safety of our residents and visitors during the cleanup effort.”   

The investigation continues into the cause of the spill. The Oiled Wildlife Care Network has been activated, and the public is asked to not attempt to capture oiled animals. Report oiled wildlife to 1-877-UCD-OWCN (1-877-823-6926). Public volunteers are not requested at this time, but information is online at https://calspillwatch.wildlife.ca.gov/Volunteer.

A claims number has been established for any individuals or businesses who feel they may have been affected by the incident 1-866-985-8366 and reference Pipeline P00547.

Featured image: Crude oil in the Pacific Ocean offshore of California’s Orange County where Huntington Beach and Newport Beach are located. October 3, 2021 (Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard)

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