Massive oil spill sends crude onto Southern California beaches

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. — A massive oil spill off the Southern California coast Sunday morning caused the closure of beaches, the cancellation of an airshow and concerns about wildlife as crews rushed to contain the damage.

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The spill is believed to have originated Saturday from a broken pipeline about three miles off the coast of Huntington Beach in Orange County, the Los Angeles Times reported. The pipeline was connected to an offshore platform and so far has dumped more than 126,000 gallons of crude oil into the Pacific Ocean, the newspaper reported.

By Sunday morning, oil had washed ashore on Huntington Beach, along with dead fish and birds, according to the Times. KTLA reported that Huntington Beach contains Talbert Marsh, which is home to about 90 species of birds, according to the Huntington Beach Wetlands Conservancy.

“We classify this as a major spill, and it is a high priority to us to mitigate any environmental concerns,” Jennifer Carey, a Huntington Beach city spokesperson, told the Times. “It’s all hands on deck.”

Officials on Sunday said they have measured a 5.8-mile oil plume running from the Huntington Beach Pier to Newport Beach, KTLA reported. The slick was reported to be “approximately 13 square miles in size,” the television station reported.

“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,” Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr said at a news conference. “Rest assured that the team in Huntington Beach mobilized quickly, and we are proactively responding. We are doing everything in our power to protect the health and safety of our residents, our visitors and our natural habitats.”

The leak forced organizers to cancel the third day of the Pacific Airshow, according to KCBS.

The Airshow was canceled. That’s unfortunate,” Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley told the television station. “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.”

Although the beaches were closed, residents still ventured out onto the sand Sunday to observe the damage.

“It’s terrible,” Jon Ely, 58, of Huntington Beach, told the Times. “This stuff is not going to come up. It’s goo, and it’s thick.”

“There’s tar everywhere,” Ben Smith, a biologist and environmental consultant for Orange County, told the newspaper. “You think by now we would have figured out how to keep this kind of thing from happening, but I guess not.

“If the birds get into this tar it’s going to stick to their feathers and it’s going to be a problem for them,” Smith added. “It contaminated the water — it’s bad for the wildlife, bad for the water, bad for the people who use the water. It’s really unfortunate.”

Orange County Rep. Michelle Steel sent a letter to President Joe Biden on Sunday requesting a major disaster declaration for Orange County, the Times reported.

“It is imperative that the federal government assist in recovery efforts,” she wrote. “I have serious concerns about the environmental impacts of the spill and applaud the workers who are doing their best to prevent the oil from hitting sensitive wetlands.”