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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Response times questioned in Southern California oil spill

Huntington Beach, Calif. (AP) — Some residents, business owners and environmentalists questioned whether officials had reacted well enough recently to stop one of the largest oil spills in California history, a suspected underwater pipeline leak. The leak, which fouled the sands of famous Huntington Beach and could keep the beaches there, closed for weeks or more.

Booms were deployed on the sea surface on Sunday 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 the oil-damaged animals and prevent them from harming any more sensitive marshlands.

People living and working in the area said they noticed an oil shine and heavy petroleum smell on Friday evening.

But it was not until Saturday afternoon that the Coast Guard said an oil slick had been spotted and a unified command was set up to respond. And it took until Saturday night for the company operating the pipeline to be responsible for shutting down operations of the leak.

Rick Torgson, owner of Blue Star Yachts Charter, said Friday evening, “People were emailing, and neighbors were asking, ‘Do you smell it? By Saturday morning the boats were returning to the marina with their hulls covered with oil, they said.

Gary Brown, president of the environmental group Orange County Coastkeepers, condemned the lack of initial coordination between the Coast Guard and local officials in dealing with the spilling oil spill.

“By the time it comes to the beach, it has already done a lot of damage. Our disappointment is that it could have been avoided if there was a quicker response,” said Brown, who lives in Huntington Beach.

An estimated 126,000 gallons (572,807 litres) of heavy crude oil leaked into the water and washed away some Orange County coasts. City and state beaches at Huntington Beach were closed, and the city of Laguna Beach to the south said late on Sunday that its beaches were also closed.

Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr said beaches in the community nicknamed “Surf City” could remain closed for weeks or even months. Oil sparkled a mile wide in the sea and washed ashore in sticky black globules.

“In a year that has been fraught with incredibly challenging issues, this oil spill is one of the most devastating situations 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 some birds and fish got trapped in the mud and died. But as of Saturday afternoon the US Coast Guard said so far there was only one ruddy duck that was covered in oil and receiving veterinary care. “Other reports of oil-fed wildlife are being investigated,” the Coast Guard said in a statement.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife warned of a “public health hazard” from consuming any fish and shellfish taken from near the shoreline to Dana Point, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) south of Huntington Beach.

The leaking pipeline connects to an oil production platform called Alley, which in turn is linked by a walkway to a drilling platform called Allen. Those two platforms and another nearby platform are in federal waters and are owned by Amplify Energy Corp.

Elly began working in a field called Beta Fields in 1980. Oil extracted from the bottom of the ocean and processed by Alley is transported by pipeline to Long Beach.

Amplify CEO Martin Wilsher said Saturday night the pipeline and three platforms were shut down. The 17.5-mile (28.16-kilometre) pipeline, which is 80 to 100 feet (24 to 30 m) below the surface, was pulled out so that no more oil spilled during the investigation of the leak.

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Crews, led by skimmers deployed by the Coast Guard, laid about 3,700 feet (1,128 m) of floating barriers, known as booms, to allow more oil to seep into areas including the Talbert Marsh, 25-acre (10-hectare) wetland officers. to try to prevent.

The smell of petroleum spread in the air all over the area. “You get the taste in your mouth from the vapor in the air,” Foley said.

Officials said the oil would continue to wash off the coast for several days and could affect Newport Beach and other nearby communities.

The closure included Huntington Beach approximately 6 miles (9.6 km) south from the northern edge of the city to the Santa Ana River Wharf. The shutdown came in the middle of the summer season, which would have brought in large crowds for volleyball, swimming and surfing. Yellow caution tape was tied between the lifeguard towers to keep people away.

Officials canceled the final day of the annual Pacific Air Show, which usually draws thousands of spectators to the city of about 200,000 residents south of Los Angeles. The show featured flyovers by the US Navy Blue Angels and US Air Force Thunderbirds.

Huntington Beach resident David Rapchun said he is concerned about the spill’s impact on the beaches where he grew up as well as the local economy.

“For the amount of oil these things produce I don’t think it’s worth the risk,” Rapchun said. He questioned whether drilling for oil along some of Southern California’s prettiest beaches was a wise idea, noting that the loss of the final day of the air show could jolt the local economy.

“We need oil, but there’s always one question: do we need it there?” he said.

The spill comes three decades after a massive oil spill in the same part of the Orange County coast. On February 7, 1990, the oil tanker American Trader ran over its anchorage at Huntington Beach, spilling about 417,000 gallons (1.6 million liters) of crude oil. Fish and about 3,400 birds were killed.

In 2015, a broken pipeline north of Santa Barbara sent 143,000 gallons (541,313 liters) of crude oil to Refugio State Beach.

The area affected by the latest spill is home to threatened and endangered species, including a plump shorebird called the snowy plover, the California least tern, and the humpback whale.

“The coastal areas of southern California are really rich for wildlife, a major biodiversity hot spot,” said Miyoko Sakashita, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s oceans program.

Environmentalists said the effects of the oil spill are widespread. Sakashita said birds that have oil on their feathers can’t fly, can’t clean themselves, and can’t monitor their temperature. Whales, dolphins and other sea creatures can have trouble breathing or die after swimming through oil or breathing in toxic fumes, he said.

“Oil spills show how dirty and dangerous oil drilling is and the oil gets mixed with water. It is impossible to clean it so it gets washed up on our beaches and people come in contact with it and wildlife comes in contact with it,” she said. “It has long-term effects on the reproduction and reproduction of animals.”


Associated Press reporters Felicia Fonseca in Phoenix and Julie Walker in New York contributed.

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