HUNTINGTON BEACH (CBSLA) — One of the largest oil spills in recent Southern California history likely originated from a pipeline leak and made its way to Huntington Beach Sunday and Monday -- claiming the lives of fish, birds and other ocean wildlife -- spurring a coastline closure, and prompting the cancelation of the third day of the Pacific Airshow.
According to authorities, 126,000 gallons of oil leaked from the offshore oil rig Elly on Saturday and started washing ashore in Orange County and into the coastal waters. The spill was likely caused by a pipeline leak from a facility operated by Beta Offshore about five miles off the coast, officials said.
Monday night, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency to assist in response to the oil spill.
The oil slick was impacting almost six miles from the Huntington Beach pier to the Balboa Pier, and has resulted in the closure of the beach from the Santa Ana River jetty to the Huntington Beach Pier. 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.
A California Department of Fish and Wildlife official said in a news conference Monday that the agency's teams have so far collected and treated four birds that were "oiled" due to the massive spill in Orange County, and one of them, a brown pelican, had to be euthanized due to "chronic injuries."
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Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr described the situation as a "potential ecologic disaster," and said some of the oil had reached the shore and was impacting the Talbert Marshlands and the Santa Ana River Trail.
"We're aware that oil has hit the beach here in Huntington Beach and it also appears that oil has infiltrated the Talbert Marsh," Carr said.
Oil also began to wash ashore in Newport Beach on Sunday, where officials were asking people not to enter the water, although they hadn't officially closed the ocean. The city of Laguna Beach also closed its beaches to the public effective 9 p.m. Sunday.
Fourteen boats conducted oil recovery operations Sunday. Three Coast Guard boats enforced a safety zone off 1,000 yards aroun
d oil spill boats. Four aircraft were dispatched for overflight assessments. The shoreside response was conducted by 105 government agency personnel.
About 3,150 gallons of oil has so far been recovered from the water and 5,360 feet of boom has been deployed to control the spread of the oil.
The rig started to leak Friday and was reported by lifeguards who indicated that they smelled significant oil odors in the area. Crews remained onsite overnight Sunday trying to assist with the clean-up, as dead birds and fish coated in oil started to wash ashore.
O.C. Supervisor Katrina Foley said Sunday said the pipeline was still believed to be leaking.
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. Elly is one of 23 oil and gas platforms installed in federal waters off the Southern California coast, according to the Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Besides Elly, a processing facility, there are 20 others that produce oil and gas, and two are being decommissioned.
Skimming equipment and booms were deployed to prevent the inflow of oil into the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve and Huntington Beach Wetlands, although officials said wildlife was already affected. Foley said said Sunday she has been told by Huntington Beach that the wildlife in the Talbert Wetlands has been "dramatically impacted."
Skimming equipment and booms were deployed to prevent the inflow of oil into the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve and Huntington Beach Wetlands, although officials said wildlife was already affected. Foley said said Sunday she has been told by Huntington Beach that the wildlife in the Talbert W
"Wildlife is dying," Foley said. "It's very sad. We do have reports of dead animals along the shore, washing up upon the shore at the Huntington Beach State beach area as well as wildlife within the Marsh and wetlands is dying."
The final day of the Pacific Airshow was also canceled by the spill Sunday.
"The airshow was canceled," Foley said. "That's unfortunate. I was planning to go and I am disappointed just like all the 1.5 million other people that were planning to go today but we just can't have the airshow going on and I know the organizers were very cooperative. They know that it is hard to do the cleanup with all the people."
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"This oil spill is a tragic reminder that offshore drilling is a devastating threat to our coast and its wildlife," said Miyoko Sakashita, director of the Center for Biological Diversity's Oceans program. "I've seen the aging oil platforms off Huntington Beach up close, and I know it's past time to decommission these time bombs. Even after fines and criminal charges, the oil industry is still spilling and leaking into California's coastal waters because these companies just aren't capable of operating safely. The only solution is to shut this dirty business down."
State wildlife officials said at least one soiled ruddy duck was receiving medical care, while local wildlife rescue groups were mobilizing to help.
"We have all our gear out, which includes masks, goggles for our staff," Debbie McGuire, director of the Wetlands & Wildlife Center in Huntington Beach, told the Orange County Register. "We also have IV fluids ready to stabilize the animals." The center received at least five birds from the spill Sunday, she said.
The Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach was also making its staff and facility available if needed.
Laguna Beach officials closed all beaches in the city effective 9 p.m. Sunday due to the oil spill.
Long Beach officials said their beaches and swimming areas were not affected by the spill, since currents were pulling south from Huntington Beach.
The spill was reminiscent of another ecological disaster decades ago. 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.
The cause of the leak is being investigated. In the meantime, the public was urged to report any impacted wildlife by calling 1-877-823-6826. People wishing to assist with cleanup or wildlife recovery efforts were asked to visit the Surfrider Foundation and HB Wetlands & Wildlife websites.
(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)
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