California Beaches Closed As ‘Devastating’ Oil Spill Threatens Wildlife

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California Beaches Closed As ‘Devastating’ Oil Spill Threatens Wildlife


Temperatures in southern California rose on Sunday, but Huntington State Beach lacked the umbrellas and beach blankets that typically line its shoreline.

Instead, public works officials were working feverishly to stop the spread of approximately 126,000 gallons of heavy crude oil that leaked from an undersea pipeline over the weekend in one of the world’s largest. major spills in recent California history.

The spill is believed to have originated in a 17.5 mile pipeline located between 80 and 100 feet below the surface off the coast of Orange County. The pipeline connects to an oil production platform named Elly, which in turn is connected by a walkway to an oil rig named Ellen. The rigs and one other nearby rig are in federal waters and are owned by Houston-based Amplify Energy Corp.

People who live and work in the area said they noticed a sheen of oil and a strong smell of oil on Friday evening. The Coast Guard confirmed Saturday afternoon that an oil slick had been spotted and established a unified command. Amplify Energy Corp shut down pipeline and rig operations later today. Company CEO Martyn Willsher said the pipeline had been sucked so that there was no more oil spill.

On Sunday, booms were deployed across the water in an attempt to contain the oil as divers sought to determine where exactly and why the leak occurred. Beaches were closed as crews rushed to find animals injured by the oil and prevent the spill from harming more sensitive marshes.

But residents, business owners and environmentalists have questioned whether authorities had acted quickly. “By the time he gets to the beach, he’s done a lot of damage. Our frustration is that this could have been avoided if there had been a quick response, ”said Garry Brown, president of the environmental group Orange County Coastkeeper.

The oil created a sliver several miles wide in the ocean and washed up on the shore in black, sticky globs. On Sunday afternoon, strong oil fumes still carried the ocean breeze.

The oil will likely continue to wash up on the shore for several days and will affect Newport Beach and other nearby communities, officials said.

The area affected by the latest spill is home to threatened and endangered species, including a plump shorebird called a snow plover, the California tern and the humpback whale. Photograph: Gabrielle Canon / The Guardian

Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr said beaches in the community dubbed “Surf City” could remain closed for weeks or even months.

“In a year filled with incredibly difficult issues, this oil spill constitutes one of the most devastating situations our community has faced in decades,” said Carr. “We are doing everything in our power to protect the health and safety of our residents, visitors and natural habitats.”

The area affected by the latest spill is home to threatened and endangered species, including a plump shorebird called a snow plover, the California tern and the humpback whale.

The effects of an oil spill are far-reaching. Birds with oil on their feathers cannot fly, cannot clean themselves and cannot monitor their own temperatures, said Miyoko Sakashita, director of the oceans program at the Center for Biological Diversity. Whales, dolphins and other sea creatures can have difficulty breathing or die after swimming in oil or breathing toxic fumes, she said.

It was reported that birds and fish were caught in the mud and died. The US Coast Guard said that on Saturday afternoon there was only one red duck covered in oil and receiving veterinary care. “Other reports of oiled wildlife are being investigated,” the agency said in a statement.

The spill comes three decades after a major oil spill hit the same part of the Orange County coast. Photograph: Gabrielle Canon / The Guardian

Huntington Beach resident David Rapchun said he was concerned about the impact the spill would have on the beaches where he grew up as well as the local economy.

“For the amount of oil that these things produce, I don’t think it’s worth it,” Rapchun said. He wondered if oil drilling was a good idea along some of Southern California’s most scenic beaches. “We need oil, but there is always a question: do we need it there? he said.

The spill comes three decades after a major oil spill hit the same part of the Orange County coast. On February 7, 1990, an oil tanker crashed its anchor off Huntington Beach, spilling nearly 417,000 gallons (1.6 million liters) of crude. Fish and approximately 3,400 birds were killed.

In 2015, a ruptured pipeline north of Santa Barbara sent 143,000 gallons (541,313 liters) of crude oil gushing out onto Refugio State Beach.

Daniel Orr and Peter Boucher from the California Department of Fisheries and Wildlife rushed to collect samples in an area spotted with black spots.
Daniel Orr and Peter Boucher from the California Department of Fisheries and Wildlife rushed to collect samples in an area spotted with black spots. Photograph: Gabrielle Canon / The Guardian

On Sunday at Huntington Beach, Daniel Orr and Peter Boucher, two senior environmental scientists from the California Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, rushed to collect samples from an area spotted with black spots. Scientists sampled sand and water and unearthed sand crabs still running under the lapping of the tide.

“Our role is to study the spill and its impacts,” said Orr, adding that it was still too early to know what ecological impact the spill will have.

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