Orange County beaches closed after oil spill off California coast destroys wildlife habitat
The breach, reported Saturday, occurred about five miles off the coast of Huntington Beach in Orange County, spilling the equivalent of an estimated 3,000 barrels — or 126,000 gallons — of post-production crude, local officials said.
Divers have been inspecting the 17-mile pipeline, hoping to find the exact source of the spill, but the leak appears to have stopped, officials said in a news conference Sunday.
Sections of the shoreline at Huntington Beach were closed on Saturday, with Mayor Kim Carr on Sunday describing the spill as a “potential ecological disaster.”
“In a year, that has been filled with incredibly challenging issues, this oil spill constitutes one of the most devastating situations that our community has dealt with in decades,” Carr said. “We are doing everything in our power to protect the health and safety of our residents, our visitors and our natural habitats.”
Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley said Sunday that dead birds and fish were washing up on the shore.
The US Coast Guard (USCG) said Sunday night that more than 3,000 gallons of oil had been removed from the water.
“Fourteen boats conducted oil recovery operations Sunday afternoon … Four aircraft were dispatched for overflight assessments. Shoreside response was conducted by 105 government agency personnel,” according to the USCG.
Cause of leak under investigation
Willsher said the company was working with numerous local, state and federal agencies on recovery efforts.
“Our employees live and work in these communities, and we’re all deeply impacted and concerned about the impact on not just the environment, but the fish and wildlife as well,” Willsher said. “We will do everything in our power to ensure that this is recovered as quickly as possible, and we won’t be done until this is concluded.”
Willsher said his company notified the Coast Guard Saturday morning when employees were conducting a line inspection and noticed a sheen in the water.
Willsher said the facilities operating the pipeline were built in the late 1970s and early 1980s and are inspected every other year, including during the pandemic.
Willsher said the pipeline has been “suctioned at both ends to keep additional crude out,” and he doesn’t expect more oil to be released.
The cause of the leak is unknown.
Eric Laughin, public information officer for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, said at a news conference Sunday, “We are still assessing to look for the source and figure out. It doesn’t appear there’s further fuel leaking, but we’re still working on identifying that.”
The federal Bureau of Safety, Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) told CNN that it was assisting in the USCG-led response to the oil spill.
In a statement Sunday, the BSEE said its role was to assist “in identifying the location and source of any spills and provide technical assistance to the Unified Command in stopping the spillage.”
Impacts on human health
In a health advisory, the Orange County Health Care Agency’s County Health Officer Dr. Clayton Chau said the impacts from exposure to the oil could vary and that anyone experiencing adverse symptoms should contact their doctor.
“Even when an oil sheen may not be visible, dispersed and dissolved oil contaminants may exist in the water,” Chau said.
The agency said symptoms of excessive exposure to oil or dispersants could include, skin, eye, nose and throat irritation, headache, dizziness, vomiting or shortness of breath.
“Inhalation of toxic oil vapors or other aerosolized oil compound particles from wind-blown waves can cause these side effects. The elderly, children, and folks with respiratory diseases such as asthma will be more susceptible to adverse side effects from inhaling the oil vapors,” the agency said.
CNN’s Sonnet Swire, Claudia Dominguez and Cheri Mossburg contributed to this report.