OC oil spill: A close-up look at a potential ecological disaster in the making

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Tuesday, October 5, 2021
Oil spill forces closure of Newport Harbor
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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.

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (KABC) -- Officials are investigating one of California's largest oil spills after more than 120,000 gallons of oil leaked from an offshore rig pipeline and into the waters off the coast of Orange County.

An Eyewitness News crew went out to sea Monday to get a firsthand look at the spill in the open water.

As reporter Josh Haskell and photographer Stephen Coleman left Newport Harbor, the boat almost didn't make it out, with officials enacting the rare move of closing the channel to extend a boom to keep the oil outside the breakwater.

Thankfully, it was business as usual for the sea lions relaxing on the harbor buoy. There was no sign of oil yet, but a mile away as the Eyewitness News crew headed toward Huntington Beach, they started to see clumps of oil - a tragic site so close to shore.

Fourteen boats were engaged in oil recovery operations, and the Eyewitness News crew saw some of them at work as the U.S. Coast Guard flew above the coastline and tracked the oil.

The birds Eyewitness News saw weren't drenched in oil or injured, but were unaware of what they were floating in and drinking.

The oil sheen was hard to miss.

"It's awful. It's disturbing actually because I worry about the sea life. I worry about my work. My work is being out here every day," said Noah Monson, the co-captain of a Newport Beach Charter Boat.

So far, oil has reached at least 13 square miles. The leak is believed to be 4.5 miles offshore and Eyewitness News spotted one of the repair boats returning to the harbor carrying divers, a hyperbaric chamber on board.

"They gotta do a better job at maintaining the pipelines. It's just really important," said Monson.

The beaches and shoreline were empty, besides crews searching for oil, racing against time to save marine life and reopen businesses along the Orange County coast.