OC oil spill: Newsom declares emergency to assist cleanup efforts

Eric Resendiz Image
Tuesday, October 5, 2021
Urgent cleanup continues of OC oil slick as threat grows to wildlife
Crews are attempting to clean up a massive oil spill that extends along the Orange County coast and is affecting wildlife.

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (KABC) -- Gov. Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency in Orange County to help mobilize state resources to clean up the oil spill off the coast.

"The state is moving to cut red tape and mobilize all available resources to protect public health and the environment," Newsom said.

Newsom's order seeks to mobilize more state resources to help with the cleanup, including cutting red tape and allowing for contracts to quickly be signed to assist the efforts.

Numerous state agencies are already involved in cleanup efforts, including Fish and Wildlife's Office of Spill Prevention and Response, along with Parks and Recreation, State Lands Commission, and the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.

Meanwhile, officials are looking into whether a ship's anchor may have struck an oil pipeline on the ocean floor, causing the major leak of crude into waters off Orange County.

The head of the company that operates the pipeline said Monday that divers have examined more than 8,000 feet of pipe and are focusing on "one area of significant interest."

Amplify Energy CEO Martyn Willsher said during a news conference that a ship's anchor striking the pipeline is "one of the distinct possibilities" for the cause of the leak.

U.S. Coast Guard officials said that cargo ships entering the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach routinely pass through the area.

"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 of Coast Guard.

The leak reported Saturday has fouled the sands of famed Huntington Beach and other coastal communities. The spill could keep beaches closed for weeks or months.

In the meantime, efforts are continuing to clean up and limit the environmental effects of the massive oil spill.

The U.S. Coast Guard is leading the response to the 126,000-gallon spill, which covered about 5.8 nautical miles between the Huntington Beach Pier and Newport Beach.

Officials believe the pipeline leak occurred about 4.5 miles off the shore. The pipeline, which is operated by Beta Offshore, and three oil platforms it serves have been shut down, according to the operator's parent company, Amplify Energy.

During a Sunday press conference CEO Martyn Willsher said divers were still trying to determine exactly where the leak occurred, but that no more oil was leaking.

"We will do everything in our power to ensure that this is recovered as quickly as possible. We won't be done until this is concluded," he said.

The Coast Guard says that 14 boats conducted oil recovery operations Sunday while three agency boats enforced a safety zone off 1,000 yards around oil spill boats. Meanwhile, four aircraft assessed the damage.

Nearly 3,200 gallons of oil has been recovered from the water so far and 5,360 feet of boom has been deployed to control the spread of the remaining oil.

Officials on Monday closed the Newport Harbor to vessel traffic to help prevent oil from entering the harbor. ABC7's Josh Haskell went out on the water for an up close look at the developing situation.

The spill was reported at about 9 a.m. Saturday, although some people reported smelling oil in the water late Friday.

Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr described the situation as a "potential ecological disaster," and said some of the oil had reached the shore and was impacting the Talbert Marshlands and the Santa Ana River Trail.

The cities of Huntington Beach and Laguna Beach have closed their shorelines until further notice as the oil slick continues to move further south. On Monday morning, the Newport Harbor was closed to vessel traffic to help prevent oil from entering the harbor.

Carr said the closures could last anywhere "from a few weeks to a few months."

Orange County health officials are warning residents not to swim, surf or exercise by the beach because of the potential health hazards.

"It's so important that we avoid the beaches. I was there for a few hours today and even during that time, I started to feel a little bit of my throat hurt. You can feel the vapor in the air," Supervisor Katrina Foley said Sunday.

Beta Offshore was also responsible for a 2,000-gallon oil spill that resulted in a federal fine in 2000, according to the Los Angeles Times.

This weekend's 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 anywhere from 123,000 to 143,000 gallons of crude oil gushing onto Refugio State Beach.

Birds and other wildlife face a potentially devastating impact from the oil spill off the Orange County coast.

Meanwhile, marine experts say the effect on wildlife could be devastating and it might take weeks and even months until they know the full extent of the damage to wild animals.

City officials said dead fish and birds are being reported.

Michael Zaccardi, the director of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, says so far four oiled birds have been found, including a brown pelican who had to be euthanized because of chronic injuries.

In general, officials say the number of birds in the area is lower than they had feared.

State wildlife officials say so far they officially only know of one duck that has been oiled, but according to volunteers helping to take animals for treatment and cleanup, other birds are being affected.

Marine experts said an oil spill like this of 126,000 gallons will affect the entire food chain and all the animals within the area.

"The entire ecology of the area can be affected by an oil spill," said Gwen Goodmanlowe, a marine biology professor at California State University, Long Beach. "Marine animals if they ingest the oil, they have got lung infections, they also can't reproduce or get reproductive impairment."

Those who encounter an oiled animal should not approach it, and can call the network at (877)823-6826 to safely rescue the animal.

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

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that the Refugio State Beach oil spill sent 100,000 gallons of crude into the ocean. It spilled up to 143,000 gallons.