One of the largest oil spills in recent Southern California history left fish dead, birds mired in petroleum and wetlands contaminated, in what local officials called an environmental catastrophe.
Reuters reported that the spill was caused by a breach connected to the Elly oil rig, operated by Beta Offshore, a California subsidiary of Houston-based Amplify Energy Corporation.
The US Coast Guard is leading the response efforts to the reported oil spill off Newport Beach and said that the investigation continues into the cause of the spill.
The investigation is currently a 24/7 operation and will continue until federal and state officials determine that the response to the crude oil spill is complete.
At least 126,000 gallons of oil spilled into the waters off Orange County, according to a statement from the city of Huntington Beach, which signalled the incident.
Huntington Beach officials said in a statement: “The spill has significantly affected Huntington Beach, with substantial ecological impacts occurring at the beach and at the Huntington Beach Wetlands.”
According to the Coast Guard’s initial statement on Sunday, a total of 1,218 gallons of oily water mixture have been recovered; nine boats were dispatched for recovery operations, along with three shoreline assessment teams, and 1,127m of boom have been deployed.
Newport Beach has a soft closure and has requested the public to stay out of the water from Tower 44 north to the Santa Ana River. However, from Seapoint Drive south to the Santa Ana River, beaches have been closed.
Officials are reported to have cancelled the final day of the annual Pacific Air Show that typically draws thousands of spectators to Huntington Beach.
Three Coast Guard boats enforced a safety zone of 1,000 yards around oil spill boats and four aircraft were dispatched for overflight assessments. The shoreside response was conducted by 105 government agency personnel, and 14 boats conducted oil recovery operations on Sunday afternoon.
The oil slick plume currently measures an estimated 10.7km and runs from the Huntington Beach Pier down into Newport Beach.
The police reported a substantial ecological impact occurring at the beach and at the Huntington Beach Wetlands. Huntington Beach Fire and Marine Safety personnel have been deployed in an effort to salvage the environmental damages.
Oceana, a US-based non-profit ocean conservation organisation, released a statement saying that the oil spill is causing “substantial ecological impacts occurring at the beach and at the Huntington Beach Wetlands”.
Jacqueline Savitz, Oceana chief policy officer, said: “This is the legacy of the fossil fuel age, in which the oil and gas industry pushed their product until we were addicted. We need to break that addiction by shifting to clean energy. It’s time for the age of oil and gas to be history. This is just the latest of many tragedies caused by the oil and gas industry. The reality of our reliance on oil and gas is on full display here.
“In Southern California, the oil has already made its way onto our coasts, covering our beaches in oil and suffocating wildlife, and most of the oil now in our ocean will never be recovered. When we drill, we spill. It’s well past time to prevent future oil spills by permanently protecting our coasts from offshore drilling.
“The devastating social, economic, and ecological consequences of offshore drilling are, sadly, on full display in Southern California right now. It’s time for President Biden to deliver on his campaign promise to end offshore drilling and we need California’s senators to ensure this gets done immediately.”
The organisation released an analysis detailing the economic benefits of banning new offshore drilling in California. It found that ending new leasing for offshore oil and gas in the US could prevent over 19 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as more than $720bn in damages to people, property, and the environment nationally.