HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif .– (AP) – Some local residents, business owners, and environmentalists wondered if authorities were reacting quickly enough to contain one of the largest oil spills in recent California history caused by a suspected leak in an underwater pipeline that was carrying the Sand of famous Huntington Beach and could keep beaches there closed for weeks or more.
On Sunday, booms were used on the ocean surface to try to contain the oil while divers tried to determine where and why the leak occurred. On land there was a race to find animals that had been harmed by the oil and to prevent the oil spill from damaging even more fragile marshland.
People who live and work in the area said they noticed an oil sheen and heavy smell of petroleum on Friday night.
But it wasn’t until Saturday afternoon that the Coast Guard announced that an oil spill had been discovered and that a unified command had been set up to respond. And it wasn’t until Saturday night for the company that operates the pipeline believed responsible for the leak to shut down.
Rick Torgerson, owner of Blue Star Yacht Charter, said Friday night, “People were sending emails and the neighbors were like, ‘Do you smell that? .
Garry Brown, president of the Orange County Coastkeeper environmental group, complained about a lack of initial coordination between the Coast Guard and local officials in dealing with the spreading oil spill.
“By the time it got to the beach, it had done enormous damage. Our frustration is that it could have been avoided if there had been a quick response, ”said Brown, who lives in Huntington Beach.
An estimated 126,000 gallons (572,807 liters) of heavy crude oil seeped into the water and some were washed up on the shores of Orange County. Huntington Beach’s urban and state beaches have closed, and late Sunday the south town of Laguna Beach said its beaches were also closed.
Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr said the community’s beaches, nicknamed “Surf City”, could be closed for weeks or even months. The oil made the ocean shine for miles and was washed ashore in sticky black globules.
“In a year filled with incredibly challenging problems, this oil spill is one of the most devastating situations our community has faced in decades,” said Carr. “We do everything in our power to protect the health and safety of our residents, our visitors and our natural habitats.”
Some birds and fish were caught in the dirt and died, said Orange County’s supervisor Katrina Foley. But early Saturday afternoon, the U.S. Coast Guard said there has only been one red duck so far covered in oil and receiving veterinary care. “Other reports of oily wildlife are being investigated,” the Coast Guard said in a statement.
The leaking pipeline is connected to an oil production platform called Elly, which in turn is connected by a walkway to a drilling platform called Ellen. These two platforms and another nearby platform are in federal waters and owned by Amplify Energy Corp.
Elly started working in an area called Beta Field in 1980. Oil extracted from under the ocean and processed by Elly is transported through the pipeline to Long Beach.
Martyn Willsher, CEO of Amplify, said the pipeline and three platforms were shut down on Saturday night. The 28.16 kilometer pipeline, 80 to 100 feet (24 to 30 meters) below the surface, was vacuumed to prevent oil from spilling while the location of the leak was investigated.
Crews led by the Coast Guard deployed skimmers laid around 1,128 feet of floating barriers known as cantilevers to prevent more oil from seeping into areas like Talbert Marsh, officials said in a 10-acre wetland area.
A stench of petroleum permeated the air throughout the area. “You get the taste in your mouth just from the fumes in the air,” said Foley.
The oil is likely to wash up on the coast for several more days, affecting Newport Beach and other nearby communities, officials said.
The closure included the entire Huntington Beach, from the northern edge of the city about 9.6 kilometers south to the jetty of the Santa Ana River. The shutdown occurred during summer weather, which would have brought large crowds to the wide beach for volleyball, swimming and surfing. Yellow caution tape was strung between the lifeguard towers to keep people out.
Officials canceled the final day of the annual Pacific Air Show, which typically draws tens of thousands of spectators to the city of roughly 200,000 residents south of Los Angeles. The show featured overflights of the US Navy Blue Angels and US Air Force Thunderbirds.
Huntington Beach resident David Rapchun said he was concerned about the impact of pollution on the beaches he grew up on as well as the local economy.
“For the amount of oil these things produce, I think it’s not worth the risk,” Rapchun said. He wondered if drilling oil along some of Southern California’s most beautiful beaches was a smart idea, and noted that losing the final day of the air show could deal a blow to the local economy.
“We need oil, but the question always arises: do we need it there?” He said.
The oil spill comes three decades after a massive oil spill struck that same stretch of Orange County’s coastline. On February 7, 1990, the American Trader oil tanker ran over its anchor off Huntington Beach and spilled nearly 417,000 gallons (1.6 million liters) of crude oil. Fish and around 3,400 birds were killed.
In 2015, a burst pipeline north of Santa Barbara sent 143,000 gallons (541,313 liters) of crude oil to Refugio State Beach.
The area hit by the recent spill is home to threatened and endangered species, including a thick shorebird called the northern ringed plover, the California little tern, and humpback whales.
“The coastal areas off Southern California are simply abundant in wildlife, a major biodiversity hotspot,” said Miyoko Sakashita, director of the ocean program for the Center for Biological Diversity.
The effects of an oil spill are far-reaching, environmentalists said. Birds that get oil on their feathers cannot fly, clean themselves, and monitor their own temperatures, Sakashita said. Whales, dolphins and other marine life can have difficulty breathing or die after swimming through oil or inhaling toxic fumes, she said.
“The oil spill just shows how dirty and dangerous oil drilling is and how oil gets into the water. It is impossible to clean it so that it would wash up on our beaches and have human contact with it and wildlife contact with it, ”she said. “It has lasting effects on the breeding and reproduction of animals. It’s really sad to see this wide field of color oiled. “
Associate press reporters Felicia Fonseca in Phoenix and Julie Walker in New York contributed.
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