Oil company says pipeline shut down after California leak

AP/Huntington Beach
Filed on October 4, 2021
A Marine Spill Response Corporation (MSRC) vessel, foreground, an oil spill removal organization (OSRO), deploys floating barriers known as booms to try to stop further incursion of an oil slick off Huntington Beach. — AP

At least 572,807 litres of crude spilled into the waters off Orange County from a pipeline that runs to shore

Crude was no longer leaking from a Southern California pipeline that’s believed to be the source of a massive oil spill that closed kilometres of beaches on Sunday, according to the head of the company that owns the facility.

Amplify Energy CEO Martyn Willsher said on Sunday that divers are still trying to determine exactly where and how the spill happened, but the pipeline has been shut off. He says all remaining oil in the line has been suctioned out.

Officials said late on Saturday that at least 572,807 litres of crude spilled into the waters off Orange County from a pipeline that runs to shore from an oil platform maintained by Beta Operating Company, a subsidiary of Houston-based Amplify.

Crews have deployed skimmers and booms to try to corral the slick.

Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr said the city’s beaches could remain closed for weeks or even months.

“The spill has significantly affected Huntington Beach, with substantial ecological impacts occurring at the beach and at the Huntington Beach Wetlands,” the statement said.

The oil created a miles-wide sheen in the ocean and washed ashore in sticky, black globules along with dead birds and fish. Crews led by the US Coast Guard deployed skimmers and floating barriers known as booms to try to stop further incursion into the wetlands and the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve.

A petroleum stench permeated the air throughout the area, said Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley.

“You get the taste in the mouth just from the vapours in the air,” she said.

The closure stretched from the Huntington Beach Pier nearly 6.4 kilometres south to the Santa Ana River jetty amid summerlike weather that would have brought beachgoers to the wide strand for volleyball, swimming and surfing. Yellow caution tape was strung between lifeguard towers to keep people away.

Officials cancelled the final day of the annual Pacific Air Show that typically draws thousands of spectators to Huntington Beach, a city of about 199,000 residents about 48 kilometres south of downtown Los Angeles. The show featured flyovers by the US Navy Blue Angels and the US Air Force Thunderbirds.

The oil slick originated from a broken pipeline connected to an offshore oil platform known as Elly, Foley said on Twitter. Elly is connected by walkway to another platform, Ellen, located just over about 14 kilometres off Long Beach.

Foley said Newport Beach Mayor Brad Avery told her that he encountered the oil slick while in a boat traveling back to the mainland from Santa Catalina Island. “He saw dolphins swimming thru the oil,” Foley tweeted.

The Huntington Beach statement early on Sunday said “while the leak has not been completely stopped, preliminary patching has been completed to repair the oil spill site,” with additional repairs planned.

The spill comes three decades after a massive oil leak hit the same stretch of Orange County coast.

The area is home to threatened and endangered species — including a plump shorebird called the snowy plover, the California least tern and humpback whales — a fishing industry and migratory birds on the Pacific Flyway.

“The coastal areas off of Southern California are just really rich for wildlife, a key biodiversity hot spot,” said Miyoko Sakashita, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s oceans programme.

The effects of an oil spill are wide-ranging, environmentalists said. Birds that get oil on their feathers can’t fly, can’t clean themselves and can’t monitor their own temperatures, Sakashita said. Whales, dolphins and other sea creatures can have trouble breathing or die after swimming through oil or breathing in toxic fumes, she said.

“The oil spill just shows how dirty and dangerous oil drilling is and oil that gets into the water. It’s impossible to clean it up so it ends up washing up on our beaches and people come into contact with it and wildlife comes in contact with it,” she said. “It has long-lasting effects on the breeding and reproduction of animals. It’s really sad to see this broad swatch oiled.”

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