HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. (CNS) — Beaches throughout Orange County were mostly closed Tuesday as efforts continued to scoop up tar and oil stemming from the massive spill from an offshore rig pipeline near Huntington Beach.
Newport Beach offered some access with visitors welcome to go on the sand, but not in the water. Vessels within Newport Harbor can continue operating in the harbor but boats are not allowed in or out to keep them from spreading oil, city spokesman John Pope said.
What You Need To Know
- The damage in Newport Beach is mainly concentrated on the west side from the Santa Ana river down to 52nd Street
- Seal Beach's beaches remain open because officials say the oil slick has not affected their shores.
- As of Monday afternoon, about 4,158 gallons of oil had been recovered and 8,700 feet of boom has been deployed to contain it
- Oil will continue flowing south with the current as it stands, with some already being seen in Laguna Beach
The damage in Newport Beach is mainly concentrated on the west side from the Santa Ana river down to 52nd Street, Pope said. Some tar and oil has been seen further down the peninsula, but it's not as slick and there has been some tar showing up in Corona Del Mar, he added.
"There are some defiant surfers, but lifeguards are working with them to say it's not safe, not healthy" to go in the water, he said. "We'll get more aggressive if we have to, but most people don't want to go into the water. It smells bad, it looks bad and that's keeping people out."
City officials are in a "wait-and-see" mode to determine if more restricted access is necessary. It appears that the winds Monday night did not pull the oil in closer to shore, Pope said.
Newport Beach City Manager Grace Leung may issue an emergency declaration Tuesday, which would allow the city to access state and federal funding assistance, Pope said. The City Council would ratify it next week.
Seal Beach's beaches remain open because officials say the oil slick has not affected their shores.
The Orange County Board of Supervisors, meanwhile, ratified an emergency declaration Tuesday issued the day before by Board Chairman Andrew Do. The supervisors were meeting in closed session Tuesday afternoon to discuss joining expected litigation related to the spill.
Orange County's emergency management director Michelle Anderson told supervisors on Tuesday that spill estimates range between 120,000 to 150,000 gallons of oil. The plume has drifted as far south as Dana Point, shutting down harbors from Newport to Dana Point.
As of Monday afternoon, about 4,158 gallons of oil had been recovered and 8,700 feet of boom has been deployed to contain it, Anderson said.
Amplify Energy, the parent company of the pipeline, has used remotely operated vehicles to survey the pipeline but has not yet found a leak in 8,000 feet of pipeline.
Officials have established a phone line for claims from residents or businesses affected by the spill. Anyone with a claim was asked to call 866-985- 8366 and use "Pipeline P00547" as a reference.
Residents were asked to not try to rescue any oil-slicked animals, but to instead report injured wildlife by calling 877-823-6926, or 877-UCD- OWCN. Interested volunteers must take a four-hour course to train for clean-up efforts and wear special personal protective equipment, Anderson said. Anyone interested can get more details at calspillwatch.wildlife.ca.gov/volunteer or by calling 800-228-4544.
Coast Guard Capt. Rebecca Ore told reporters Monday afternoon that the oil spill is not one large blot.
"I would characterize it as isolated ribbons of oil, or patches of oil," Ore said. "It's constantly changing."
Oil will continue flowing south with the current as it stands, with some already being seen in Laguna Beach, Ore said.
Martyn Willsher, president and chief executive of Houston-based Amplify Energy, parent company of the oil rig Elly, said his company sent divers down to inspect a pipeline "to verify what we're seeing" from ROV scans in hopes of confirming a cause of the leak.
"We're moving very closely to a source and cause of this incident," Willsher said. "I wanted the divers to go down there to the area before we commented further. They will be down there this (Monday) afternoon... Until we get down there with the divers I'm not going to speculate (on the cause)."
The spill was likely caused by a pipeline leak from a facility operated by Beta Offshore about five miles off the coast, officials said. There has been speculation that a ship anchor may have struck the line, and Willsher said that is among the possibilities being examined, but he declined to comment until a closer inspection is done.
According to the Coast Guard, 14 boats conducted oil recovery operations Monday while three Coast Guard boats enforced a safety zone of 1,000 yards around oil spill boats. Seven aircraft were employed to assess damage and progress.
Five shoreline cleanup and assessment teams have been dispatched to assess beaches from Laguna Beach to Dana Point Harbor.
U.S. Justice Department officials and federal investigators are "investigating to determine if any criminal liability exists as it relates to the oil spill," said Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office.
The spill was reported at about 9 a.m. Saturday, although some people reported smelling oil in the water late Friday. The Los Angeles Times reported that the state received a notification from an unknown source on Friday night about a sheen in the water. Amplify Energy did not report the leak to the state until about 9 a.m Saturday, saying it had occurred at around 2:30 a.m.
Willsher and Ore said the first notification of something awry with the leak was made Saturday morning.
"This is absolutely unacceptable," Rep. Michelle Steel, R-Huntington Beach, tweeted. "We need to know what actions were taken and why we weren't alerted sooner. We are facing a real crisis and I'll be requesting a full investigation."
Gov. Gavin Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency in Orange County on Monday night to support the response to the oil spill.
"The state is moving to cut red tape and mobilize all available resources to protect public health and the environment," Newsom said.
The spill drew a response from all levels of government.
Lt. Christian Corbo of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife said four oil-slicked sea birds have been collected. Three are being treated but one pelican had to be euthanized.
The state DFW has ordered the closure of Southern California fisheries in response to the spill, prohibiting the taking of fish and shellfish from Huntington Beach to Dana Point.
Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said she was "not happy about" the leak, but added, "I do commend the state for taking prompt action along with the Coast Guard and local authorities. Everyone has been engaged, working collaboratively."
All of the beaches under the county's jurisdiction "have been closed as a precaution," Bartlett said. County officials want to keep the beaches as clear as possible for first responders to access the area. Bartlett said the leak doesn't just have "an impact on tourism, but an impact on sea life and water fowl."
She said some business leaders believe that offshore oil drilling can keep down the price of gas, but, she added, "How do we balance the environment versus business interests. I understand all sides of the equation, and so very difficult decisions have to be made."
Orange County CEO Frank Kim said county officials on Monday have been focusing on getting the word out to residents to stay away from the beaches and for boaters to steer clear of the oil-slicked water. They don't want boats to spread the oil around, and watercraft that drift into the oil needed to be cleaned by certified companies that can do so in an environmentally safe way, Kim said.
Kim said county officials want to see a stepped-up response from the state.
"I want to see bodies on the sand, I want to see many boats in the water and I want to see ... a sense of urgency," Kim said.
"I just want to see an overwhelming response. I haven't seen it yet, but our desire is to see it sooner rather than later."
Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr described the situation as a "potential ecologic disaster," and said some of the oil had reached the shore and was impacting the Talbert Marshlands and the Santa Ana River Trail.
"Our wetlands are being degraded and portions of our coastline are completely covered in oil," Carr said Sunday.
Carr said the beach closures could last anywhere "from a few weeks to a few months."
The spill occurred in federal waters at the Elly platform, built in 1980 to process crude oil from two other platforms, which draw from a large reservoir called Beta Field. Elly is one of three platforms operated by Beta Operating Co., which also operates Ellen and Eureka nearby. Elly processes oil production from Ellen and Eureka and is fed by some 70 oil wells. The processing platform separates oil from water.
"It's just crude oil that's sent to the shore," Willsher said.
Elly is one of 23 oil and gas platforms installed in federal waters off the Southern California coast, according to the Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Besides Elly, a processing facility, there are 20 others that produce oil and gas, and two are being decommissioned.
The potential source of the oil leak is about 4 1/2 miles off the coast, along the 17 1/2-mile pipeline to shore, where it is delivered to a local refinery, Willsher said at a briefing Sunday afternoon.
The offshore platform system has been linked to earlier leaks, including a 2,000-gallon spill that led to a $48,000 federal fine against the operator for improper calibration of a leak-detection system. The corroded pipeline carried oil, water and gas from Eureka to Elly, the Los Angeles Times reported about the 1999 incident.
Regarding the Saturday spill, "Workers moved to shut down the pipeline and used pressurized equipment to retrieve as much oil as possible soon after the incident was reported at 12:18 p.m.," Kate Conrad of Beta Offshore told The Times.
Willsher said the company's complicated processing operation was shut down entirely for now.
Dr. Clayton Chau, Orange County's chief health officer, issued a health advisory Sunday for residents who may have encountered contaminated materials.
"The effects of oil spills on humans may be direct and indirect, depending on the type of contact with the oil spill," Chau said.
"People may come in direct contact with oil and/or oil products while walking in a contaminated area (e.g., beach). An initial irritation will be obvious. Additionally, contaminants may be absorbed through the skin. Even when an oil sheen may not be visible, dispersed and dissolved oil contaminants may exist in the water.
"Please contact your family physician or call 911 if you are experiencing adverse symptoms. Currently, we are asking residents to please refrain from participating in recreational activities on the coastline such as swimming, surfing, biking, walking, exercising, gathering, etc.," the statement continued.
The spill was reminiscent of another ecological disaster decades ago. An estimated 3,400 birds were killed when the American Trader oil tanker ran over its anchor and punctured its hull on Feb. 7, 1990, spilling an estimated 416,600 gallons of crude oil off the coast of Huntington Beach.
As a result of the spill, the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center was established March 31, 1998, at 21900 Pacific Coast Highway to help injured and orphaned wildlife including oil-soiled birds. A makeshift facility at that site treated birds injured in the 1990 spill, according to the center's website.