Massive oil spill on OC coast reportedly kills wildlife, forces cancellation of Pacific Airshow

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (KABC) -- A massive oil spill along the Orange County coast forced the cancellation of the final day of the Pacific Airshow and prompted warnings from officials to avoid entering the water on Sunday.

The 126,000-gallon oil spill, caused by a leak from a facility operated by Beta Offshore, covers about 5.8 nautical miles between the Huntington beach Pier and Newport Beach.

Divers are currently accessing an underwater pipeline, but have not been able to pinpoint the source of the leak. During a Sunday afternoon press conference, officials said no further crude is leaking into the ocean as the pipeline has been capped at each end and no longer has any oil in it.

Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr said the spill of 3,000 barrels worth of oil was reported about 9 a.m. Saturday and drew a response from all levels of government and a unified command was established to handle the environmental crisis.

Carr described the situation as a "potential ecologic disaster" on Saturday. By Sunday, the oil infiltrated the Talbert Wetlands and caused "significant damage," according to Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley.

The City of Huntington Beach closed beach and water access from the Pier down to the Santa Ana River jetty.

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A major oil spill off the coast of Orange County prompted the closure of ocean waters in Huntington Beach, with officials saying that some of the oil had reached the city's shore.

Foley, who represents the impacted cities of Newport Beach, Huntington Beach and Seal Beach, said the damage from the spill could be irreversible and dead birds and fish were already seen washing up on the shore. Those who encounter oiled wildlife should not approach the animals and instead should call the Oiled Wildlife Care Network at (877) 823-6826.

During a Sunday afternoon press conference, a spokesperson with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said one oiled duck is receiving veterinary care.

The oil created a miles-wide sheen in the ocean and washed ashore in sticky, black globules along with dead birds and fish. Crews led by the U.S. Coast Guard deployed skimmers and floating barriers known as booms to try to stop further incursion into the wetlands and the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve.

A petroleum stench permeated the air throughout the area, said Foley.

"You get the taste in the mouth just from the vapors in the air," she said

Officials canceled the final day of the annual Pacific Airshow that typically draws thousands of spectators. The decision to cancel the popular airshow was made to facilitate clean-up efforts. 1.5 million people were in Huntington Beach for the airshow on Saturday.

"The City fully acknowledges the gravity of the decision to cancel the final day of the iconic Pacific Airshow, and the disappointment that this decision will cause," the city said in a statement. "However, the need for prompt and intensive intervention efforts requires complete and unfettered access to the marine environment."

The spill comes three decades after a massive oil leak hit the same stretch of Orange County coast. On Feb. 7, 1990, the oil tanker American Trader ran over its anchor off Huntington Beach, spilling nearly 417,000 gallons of crude. Fish and about 3,400 birds were killed.

In 2015, a ruptured pipeline north of Santa Barbara sent 143,000 gallons of crude oil gushing onto Refugio State Beach.

The Associated Press and City News Service contributed to this report.

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