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Southern California Oil Spill Could have Massive Consequences For Environment and People


Waters off the coast of Southern California were polluted with at least 126,000 gallons of oil after an underwater pipeline began to leak in early October. Fallout from the spill has already created a health hazard for local wildlife and residents of Orange County.

The US Coast Guard and Huntington Beach Police Department are working to assess the damages and clean up the oil. Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in the region.

“The state is moving to cut red tape and mobilize all available resources to protect public health and the environment,” reads a statement from the Governor’s office.

The waters off Huntington Beach were covered in an oil slick in early October 2021.
The waters off Huntington Beach were covered in an oil slick in early October 2021.

The spill started 5 miles off the shore of Huntington Beach, California, and covered an area of 13 square miles with a , CNN reports. Though this spill was much smaller in comparison to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill, the environmental impact could still be devastating.

The Coast Guard is leading the oil cleanup and removed approximately 3,150 gallons of post-production crude in the first 24 hours of being deployed. Within 48 hours, the efforts had recovered 4,158 gallons of oil.

The Coast Guard has been deployed to clean up the oil that now pollutes this coastline.
The Coast Guard has been deployed to clean up the oil that now pollutes this coastline.

“Fourteen boats are conducting oil recovery operations Monday while three Coast Guard boats are enforcing a safety zone 1,000 yards around oil spill recovery boats,” the Coast Guard reports. “Seven aircraft were dispatched for overflight assessments. Shoreside and water response was conducted by 320 personnel from government agencies and private response organizations.”

According to documents reviewed by CNN, state and local officials received reports of an oil sheen in the waters near Huntington Beach more than 12 hours before Amplify Energy Corp., the company responsible for the line, reported the leak.

Amplify CEO Martyn Willsher said his company has equipment that can detect leaks without the need of visual confirmation, but it had not been triggered until after those reports were being made.

Oil slick is a threat to marine and wetland flora and fauna.
Oil slick is a threat to marine and wetland flora and fauna.

According to the LA Times, oil washing ashore, along with dead birds and fish, prompted local officials to close down public access to the Pacific shorelines at Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach and Newport Beach.

Skimming equipment and booms were deployed to stop the slick from spreading to nearby wetlands, but full containment wasn’t possible.

“The oil has infiltrated the entirety of the (Talbert) wetlands. There’s significant impacts to wildlife there,” said Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley. “These are wetlands that we’ve been working with the Army Corps of Engineers, with (a local) land trust, with all the community wildlife partners to make sure to create this beautiful, natural habitat for decades. And now in just a day, it’s completely destroyed.”

The Refugio oil spill in 2015 was damaging to the Santa Barbara County environment.
The Refugio oil spill in 2015 was damaging to the Santa Barbara County environment.

The oil leak originated in federal waters at the Elly platform, built in 1980 to process crude oil, and one of three platforms in the area operated by Beta Operating Co., CBS Los Angeles reports.

“This oil spill is a tragic reminder that offshore drilling is a devastating threat to our coast and its wildlife,” said Miyoko Sakashita, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Oceans program. “I’ve seen the aging oil platforms off Huntington Beach up close, and I know it’s past time to decommission these time bombs. Even after fines and criminal charges, the oil industry is still spilling and leaking into California’s coastal waters because these companies just aren’t capable of operating safely. The only solution is to shut this dirty business down.”

In 2007, about 58,000 gallons of oil spilled from South Korea-bound container ship near the San Francisco Bay
In 2007, about 58,000 gallons of oil spilled from South Korea-bound container ship near the San Francisco Bay.

Response teams have found a handful of oil-covered birds along the shoreline, and are treating them for injuries.

“In our initial assessment of the area, the number of birds in the general area seems to be lower than we had feared,” said Dr. Michael Ziccardi, a veterinarian at UC Davis and the director of California’s Oiled Wildlife Care Network. “At this point, we’re cautiously optimistic related to the number of animals that might be affected.”

“We have all our gear out, which includes masks, goggles for our staff,” said Debbie McGuire, director of the Wetlands & Wildlife Center in Huntington Beach. “We also have IV fluids ready to stabilize the animals.”

The full extent of the impact to marine and wetland life has yet to be accounted for.

“Our employees live and work in these communities, and we’re all deeply impacted and concerned about the impact on not just the environment, but the fish and wildlife as well,” said Amplify CEO Martyn Willsher. “We will do everything in our power to ensure that this is recovered as quickly as possible, and we won’t be done until this is concluded.”

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