HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. – A Southern California pipeline believed to be the source of a massive oil spill that blocked miles of popular beaches on Sunday has stopped leaking crude, according to the head of the company that owns the facility.
Divers were still trying to figure out where and why the leak occurred, but the flow of oil was stopped late Saturday from the pipe running under the sea in front of Huntington Beach, said Martyn Willsher, CEO of Amplify Energy.
At least 126,000 gallons of crude oil were spilled into the waters off Orange County as of late Friday or early Saturday when boaters began reporting a sheen in the water, officials said.
“I don’t expect it to be more. That’s the capacity of the entire pipeline, ”Willsher said at a press conference on Sunday. He said the pipeline was siphoned and dozens of nearby oil platforms operated by Amplify have been decommissioned.
It was one of the largest oil spills in Southern California’s recent history and littered the beach in Huntington Beach, the city known as Surf City USA. The crews made efforts to contain the crude oil before it spread further into protected wetlands.
Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr said the city’s famous beaches could be closed for weeks or even months.
“This oil spill is one of the most devastating situations our community has faced in decades,” said Carr.
The oil created a mile-long sheen in the sea and was washed ashore in sticky black globules along with dead birds and fish, officials said. Crews led by the U.S. Coast Guard deployed skimmers and floating barriers known as booms to prevent further intrusions into the wetlands and the Bolsa Chica ecological reserve.
An oil smell permeated the air throughout the area, said Orange County supervisor Katrina Foley.
“You only get the taste in your mouth from the fumes in the air,” she said.
The closure included all of Huntington Beach, about 6 miles south of the Santa Ana River jetty in summer weather that would have drawn large crowds to the wide beach for volleyball, swimming and surfing. Yellow caution tape was strung between the lifeguard towers to keep people out.
Officials canceled the final day of the annual Pacific Air Show, which typically draws thousands of viewers to Huntington Beach, a city of about 199,000 residents about 30 miles south of downtown Los Angeles. The show featured overflights of the US Navy Blue Angels and US Air Force Thunderbirds.
The oil spill came from a broken pipeline connected to an offshore oil rig called Elly, Foley said on Twitter. Elly is connected by a walkway to another platform, Ellen, which is just over 8.5 miles from Long Beach, according to the Federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.
Foley said Newport Beach Mayor Brad Avery told her he encountered the oil spill on a boat on its way back from Santa Catalina Island to the mainland. “He saw dolphins swimming through the oil,” Foley tweeted.
Huntington Beach resident David Rapchun said he was concerned about the impact of pollution on the beaches he grew up on as well as the local economy.
“For the amount of oil these things produce, I think it’s not worth the risk,” Rapchun said. “I’m sure they have long leases, but these things can change.”
He wondered if drilling oil along some of Southern California’s most beautiful beaches was a smart idea, and noted that losing the final day of the air show could deal a blow to the local economy.
“We need oil, but the question always arises: do we need it there?” He asked himself.
The oil spill comes three decades after a massive oil spill struck that same stretch of Orange County’s coastline. On February 7, 1990, the oil tanker American Trader ran over its anchor off Huntington Beach and spilled nearly 417,000 gallons of crude oil. Fish and around 3,400 birds were killed.
In 2015, a ruptured pipeline north of Santa Barbara poured 143,000 gallons of crude oil onto Refugio State Beach.
At a press conference Saturday night, Orange County officials expressed concern about the environmental impact of the oil spill, hoping crews could stop the oil before it flowed into sensitive wetlands.
“We have worked with our federal, state and county partners to mitigate the impact that could pose a potential ecological disaster,” said Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr.
The area is home to threatened and endangered species – including a plump shoreline bird called the northern ringed plover, the California little tern, and humpback whales – a fishing industry and migratory birds on the Pacific Flyway.
“The coastal areas off Southern California are simply abundant in wildlife, a major biodiversity hotspot,” said Miyoko Sakashita, director of the ocean program for the Center for Biological Diversity.
The effects of an oil spill are far-reaching, environmentalists said. Birds that get oil on their feathers cannot fly, clean themselves, and monitor their own temperatures, Sakashita said. Whales, dolphins and other marine life can have difficulty breathing or die after swimming through oil or inhaling toxic fumes, she said.
“The oil spill just shows how dirty and dangerous oil drilling is and how oil gets into the water. It is impossible to clean it so that it would wash up on our beaches and have human contact with it and wildlife contact with it, ”she said. “It has lasting effects on the breeding and reproduction of animals. It’s really sad to see this wide field of color oiled. “
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