- The spill left a sheen over miles of ocean along the shoreline at Huntington Beach.
- Oil will continuing washing up for days, officials warned.
- More than 125,000 gallons of oil spilled from a pipeline about four miles offshore.
HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. – Cleanup crews along Southern California’s coast deployed skimmers and attempted to corral oil-slicked ocean waters in booms Monday while wildlife experts scrambled to protect birds and fish from an enormous oil spill that threatened to close beaches for months.
The spill left a sheen over miles of ocean and gobs of thick black oil along the shoreline at Huntington Beach, about 30 miles south of downtown Los Angeles. The disaster drew an outcry from environmental groups demanding an end to offshore drilling.
Officials investigating the oil spill are looking into whether a ship’s anchor may have struck a pipeline on the ocean floor, causing the major leak of crude, authorities said Monday.
The head of the company that operates the pipeline said that divers have examined more than 8,000 feet of pipe and are focusing on “one area of significant interest.”
An anchor striking the pipeline is “one of the distinct possibilities” behind the leak, Amplify Energy CEO Martyn Willsher told a news conference.
Monday afternoon, surfers and beachgoers ignored yellow caution tape stretched along large portions of the beach. The smell of oil and gas filled the air.
As workers sifted through the sand using rakes, large flour sifters and their own hands, more oil continued to wash ashore.
Each wave crashing on Huntington Beach left another black outline along the shore. Seagulls and small birds waded through the coastline pecking through both large gooey globs of oil and small flakes that coated the shore.
Victor Luna dug through the sand panning for more globs of oil. Each handful brought another clump of dark, thick crude that he dumped in a large clear trash bag. Traveling from near San Diego to help with cleanup efforts, he says he got out to the beach with dozens of others around 6 a.m. and is prepared for 12-hour days until the beach is back to its typical pristine state.
“It’s just awful. It’s hard to see but I’m glad I get to help clean this mess up,” Luna said, readying for a lunch break and taking off his white Tyvek suit, similar to a lightweight hazmat suit.
Oil will wash up for days, officials warned.
“You get the taste in the mouth just from the vapors in the air,” Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley said. Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr said the spill resulted in “substantial ecological impacts” for the beach and wetlands.
More than 125,000 gallons of oil spilled from a pipeline about 4 miles offshore, authorities said. Carr said the spill affects about 6 miles of shoreline, and her city’s beaches could be closed for months.
Foley said dead birds and fish washed up on the shore, and oil “infiltrated the entirety” of some wetlands.
“How many of these oil disasters do we have to witness before our elected leaders understand that there is no safe way to drill or transport dirty fossil fuels?” said Monica Embrey, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign. “This spill is yet another reminder that we can have healthy and safe communities, thriving coastal economies and a stable climate – or we can continue drilling for oil. We can’t have both.”
“This is just the latest tragedy of the oil industry,” said Jackie Savitz, chief policy officer at Oceana. “The reality of our reliance on oil and gas is on full display here. This is the legacy of the fossil fuel age.”
Environment California’s State Director Laura Deehan called the spill a “stark and dark reminder” of the threat to an area that is home to great blue herons, pelicans and endangered California least terns, as well as sea turtles and fish.
“This spill threatens all of them,” Deehan said. “This ecological disaster underscores the urgent need for Gov. (Gavin) Newsom to accelerate our transition away from fossil fuels to a 100% renewable energy-powered economy.”
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Steve Campbell surfs in Huntington Beach nearly every day and has seen many spills along the coast. Monday, he continued his routine with friends at Bolsa Chica State Beach along the scenic Pacific Coast Highway, north of the center of the spill.
“I wasn’t too worried because you can see where there is oil with the sheen covering the water,” the 71-year-old said as he loaded his bright orange surfboard into the back of his SUV.
From the coast, he and his friends could see the platform that connects the oil pipeline suspected of leaking hundreds of thousands of gallons.
“I feel like it’s every other day that you hear about a sewage leak or some type of issue in the water across the state,” Campbell said.
He said there were hints of oil in the air as early as Friday.
Dozens of people walked, biked and roller skated along the beach despite the nearby spill. About a dozen surfers caught waves as law enforcement, environmental organizations and other officials parked nearby.
Newport Beach Mayor Brad Avery told CNN he was coming back from Catalina Island on a boat with his family Saturday when he heard “chatter” on the marine radio about oil in the water. Soon Avery came upon a patch of oil himself.
“There was some dolphin on our bow, and it was beautiful,” Avery said. “We went into this patch of oil that was, you know, very extensive and pretty thick. And it was shocking.”
The town’s beach and harbor remained open; boaters were asked to avoid traversing the oil spill because it might cling to boats that could bring oil into the harbor. Beachgoers were warned to avoid contact with ocean water and oiled areas of the sand. The nearby town of Laguna closed its beaches.
The Coast Guard leads a “unified command” of federal, state and local agencies investigating and cleaning up the leak. One oiled duck was collected and received veterinary care, and “other reports of oiled wildlife are being investigated,” the agency said early in the cleanup effort.
The Oiled Wildlife Care Network was on the scene, and the public was asked to report – but not attempt to capture – oiled animals.
Carr said the Beta Offshore, a California subsidiary of Houston-based Amplify Energy, was responsible for the spill. On its website, Beta Offshore says it is one of the largest oil producers in Southern California, operating three offshore platforms 12 miles south of Long Beach.
Amplify Energy aided in the cleanup effort, and Carr said authorities would ensure that the company “does everything possible to rectify this environmental catastrophe.”
“Amplify Energy is a fully engaged member of and working cooperatively with the unified command,” it said. The company’s stock price had fallen more than 40% as of noon Monday.
Dwayne Brady biked along Huntington Beach on Monday with his small dog, Killer, stopping to watch crews with large yellow dozer trucks pack sand along the coast. The dozers were attempting to stop more oil from seeping from the ocean into rivers and streams that snake through throughout the community, parts of which already had sheen covering the water.
“It’s just horrifying,” Brady said with his small pooch in his bicycle’s basket. “I mean the damage is just insurmountable.”
Bacon reported from Arlington, Virginia, Rice from Silver Spring, Maryland. Contributing: The Associated Press