Crews on the sea and land fanned out over the weekend along the Orange County coastline in an an effort to contain one of the largest oil spills in recent California history.
The spill, caused by a suspected leak in an underwater pipeline, reached the sands of famed Huntington Beach and could keep beaches along the Orange County coast closed for weeks or longer.
Below, you’ll find an updated FAQ about beach closures, cleanup and containment, and the oil’s devastating impact on wildlife and the environment.
NewsChopper4 provides a view of the area affected by the Huntington Beach oil spill Video broadcast Monday Oct. 4, 2021.
Where is the Huntington Beach oil spill?
About 126,000 gallons of oil spilled covered about 5.8 nautical miles or 13 square miles between the Huntington Beach Pier and Newport Beach. The spill is about the size of Santa Monica. The leak is believed to be about four miles offfshore. The 17.5-mile pipeline is 80 to 100 feet below the surface.
What caused the oil spill in Huntington Beach?
The spill was likely due to a pipeline leak from a facility offshore operated by Beta Offshore about five miles off the Orange County coast, officials said. Divers are investigating a possible source of the leak about four miles from shore, company officials said. Houston-based Amplify Energy Corp. is the parent company of Beta Offshore. At a Monday news conference, a company representative said they are close to identifying the source of the leak.
What caused the leak has not been determined. Amplify Energy CEO Martyn Willsher was asked at a Monday news conference whether a ship’s anchor striking the pipeline is to blame.
“We’re looking into if it could have been an anchor from a ship, but that’s in the assessment phase right now,” said Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Jeannie Shaye.
The investigations include one by the Coast Guard and another by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. That information will then be presented to prosecutors for possible charges, a department official said at a Monday news conference.
When did the oil spill happen?
The leak likely began late Friday or early Sunday. The spill was reported at about 9 a.m. Saturday, although some people reported smelling oil in the water late Friday. Oil began to wash ashore in the hours that followed.
What beaches are closed?
All beaches from Huntington Beach south to Laguna Beach are closed. The closures might last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. A six-mile stretch of coastline from Seapoint Street in Huntington Beach south to the Santa Ana River jetties was closed Monday.
On Monday, the city of Laguna Beach said all city beaches were closed, including beaches operated by the county — Aliso Beach, Laguna Royale, Tablerock Beach, Thousand Steps Beach and West Street Beach.
What other areas are affected or threatened by the oil?
City officials said some of the oil had reached the shore and was impacting the Talbert Marshlands and the Santa Ana River Trail. The Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve and Huntington Beach Wetlands also are in the area.
How are crews containing and cleaning up the oil?
More than a dozen boats were part of oil recovery operations Sunday afternoon while three Coast Guard boats enforced a safety zone off 1,000 yards around oil spill boats. Aircraft assessed damage and progress. As of early Monday, about 3,150 gallons of oil had been recovered from the water and 5,360 feet of boom has been deployed to control the spread of the oil.
Skimming equipment and booms were deployed to prevent the inflow of oil into the sensitive wildlife areas. The oil pipeline was suctioned out so no more oil would spill as the location of the leak was being investigated.
How is the oil spill affecting wildlife?
As of Monday morning, four oiled bird had been recovered, according to state wildlife officials. One of those birds, a brown pelican, was euthanized due to injuries. Other oiled birds have been sighted. The birds are transported to wildlife care enters for treatment.
Oil is harmful to wildlife, but birds are of particular concerns. Oil on their feathers prevents them from flying. They also can’t clean themselves and or monitor their own temperatures. Whales, dolphins and other sea creatures can have trouble breathing or die after swimming through oil or breathing in toxic fumes.
PHOTOS: Huntington Beach Oil Spill Causes Massive Ecologic Damage
How can I help with wildlife recovery?
The California Department of Fish & Wildlife set up the Oiled Wildlife Care Network hotline, at 877-823-6926, for people to call if they see wildlife impacted from the oil. Members of the public were urged not to approach any animals themselves. People wishing to assist with cleanup or wildlife recovery efforts were asked to visit the Surfrider Foundation and HB Wetlands & Wildlife websites.
Does the oil spill pose a health hazard to humans?
Health officials warned people not to swim, surf or exercise by the beach because of the potential health hazards. People were also urged not to fish in the area since the waters are considered toxic.
What do we know about the oil platform?
The spill occurred in federal waters at the Elly platform, built in 1980 to process crude oil from two other platforms, which draw from a large reservoir called Beta Field. Houston-based Amplify Energy Corp. is the parent company of Beta Offshore. Elly is one of three platforms operated by Beta Operating Co., which also operates Ellen and Eureka nearby. Elly processes oil production from Ellen and Eureka and is fed by some 70 oil wells. The processing platform separates oil from water.
Have spills like this happened before off the California coast?
During a 10-day period in early 1969, between about 3.5 million and 4.2 million gallons of crude spilled into the Santa Barbara Channel after a blowout six miles offshore on a Union Oil drilling platform. The disaster area was about 115 miles from the site of the 126,000-gallon spill over the weekend that fouled Huntington Beach. The Santa Barbara spill provided momentum for many modern day environmental protection laws.
An estimated 3,400 birds were killed when the American Trader oil tanker ran over its anchor and punctured its hull on Feb. 7, 1990, spilling an estimated 416,600 gallons of crude oil off the coast of Huntington Beach. As a result of the spill, the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center was established March 31, 1998 at 21900 Pacific Coast Highway to help injured and orphaned wildlife including oil-soiled birds, according to the DFW. A makeshift facility at that site treated birds injured in the 1990 spill, according to the center’s website.