HUNTINGTON BEACH, California (AP) – Some residents, businesses and environmental activists questioned whether the authorities responded quickly enough to contain one of the largest oil spills in California’s recent history, caused by a suspected leak in an underwater pipeline that polluted the sands of famous Huntington Beach and may keep the beaches there closed for weeks or longer.
Barriers were placed on the sea surface on Sunday to try to contain the oil while divers tried to determine where and why the leak occurred. On land, there was a competition to find animals damaged by the oil and to prevent the spill from damaging any more sensitive marshland.
People who live and work in the area said they noticed an oil glow and a strong petroleum smell on Friday night.
But it was not until Saturday afternoon that the Coast Guard said that an oil pocket had been discovered and a unified command was established to respond. And it took until Saturday night before the company that operates the pipeline, which was considered responsible for the leak, shut down operations.
Rick Torgerson, owner of the Blue Star Yacht Charter, said on Friday night that “people emailed and the neighbors asked” do you smell it? “.
Garry Brown, chairman of the Orange County Coastkeeper Environmental Group, explained that there was no initial coordination between the Coast Guard and local officials when it came to spreading the oil slick.
“When it comes to the beach, it has done enormous damage. Our frustration is that it could have been averted if it was a quick response, says Brown, who lives in Huntington Beach.
An estimated 126,000 gallons (572,807 gallons) of heavy crude oil leaked into the water and some washed up on the shores of Orange County. The city and state beaches at Huntington Beach were closed, and late Sunday, the town of Laguna Beach, just south, said its beaches were also closed.
Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr said the beaches in the community, nicknamed “Surf City”, could remain closed for weeks or even months. The oil created a mile wide shine in the sea and washed ashore in sticky black balls.
“In a year filled with incredibly challenging issues, this oil spill is one of the most devastating situations our society has dealt with in decades,” Carr said. “We do everything we can to protect the health and safety of our residents, our visitors and our natural habitats.”
Some birds and fish were caught in the mud and died, said Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley. But in the early afternoon on Saturday, the US Coast Guard said that it was only a rough duck that was covered in oil and that received veterinary care. “Other reports of oiled wildlife are being investigated,” the Coast Guard said in a statement.
The leaking pipeline connects to an oil production platform called Elly, which in turn is connected via a walkway to a drilling platform called Ellen. These two platforms and another nearby platform are located in federal waters and are owned by Amplify Energy Corp.
Elly began operating in 1980 in an area called the Beta Field. Oil drawn under the sea and processed by Elly is taken by pipeline to Long Beach.
Amplify CEO Martyn Willsher said the pipeline and three platforms were shut down on Saturday night. The 17.5-mile (28.16-kilometer) pipeline, located 24 to 30 meters (80 to 100 feet) below the surface, was sucked out so that no more oil would spill while the location of the leak was investigated.
Crews led by the Coast Guard’s deployed skimmers laid about 1,128 meters of floating barriers called barriers to try to stop more oil from penetrating areas including Talbert Marsh, said a 25-acre (10-acre) farmland official.
A petroleum tank penetrated the air throughout the area. “You only get the taste in your mouth from the fumes in the air,” Foley said.
The oil is likely to continue washing on the beach for several days, affecting Newport Beach and other nearby communities, officials said.
The closure is included all of Huntington Beach, from the northern edge of the city about 9.6 kilometers south to the Santa Ana River. The shutdown came in the middle of summer-like weather that would have brought large crowds to the wide string of volleyball, swimming and surfing. Yellow warning tape was stretched between lifeguard towers to keep people away.
Officials interrupted the final day of the annual Pacific Air Show, which typically draws tens of thousands of spectators to the city with about 200,000 residents south of Los Angeles. The show featured flyovers of the US Navy Blue Angels and US Air Force Thunderbirds.
David Rapchun, a resident of Huntington Beach, said he was concerned about the impact of the spill on the beaches where he grew up as well as the local economy.
“For the amount of oil these things produce, I do not think it’s worth the risk,” Rapchun said. He questioned whether drilling for oil was a wise idea along some of Southern California’s most scenic beaches, noting the loss of the last day of the air show could hit the local economy hard.
“We need oil, but there’s always a question: Do we need that?” he said.
The spill comes three decades after a massive oil spill hit the same stretch of the Orange County coast. On February 7, 1990, the oil tanker American Trader ran over its anchor off Huntington Beach and spilled nearly 417,000 gallons (1.6 million gallons) of crude oil. Fish and about 3400 birds were killed.
In 2015, a broken pipeline north of Santa Barbara sent 143,000 gallons (541,313 liters) of crude oil flowing out onto Refugio State Beach.
The area affected by the latest release is home to endangered and endangered species, including a chubby shorebird known as the snow leopard, California’s least dachshund and humpback whales.
“Coastal areas outside of Southern California are truly rich in wildlife, an important site for biodiversity,” said Miyoko Sakashita, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s ocean program.
The effects of an oil spill are extensive, say environmental activists. Birds that get oil on their feathers cannot fly, cannot clean themselves and cannot monitor their own temperatures, Sakashita said. Whales, dolphins and other sea creatures can have difficulty breathing or dying after swimming through oil or inhaling toxic fumes, she said.
“The oil spill only shows how dirty and dangerous oil drilling is and oil coming out of the water. It is impossible to clean it up so that it stops washing up on our beaches and people come in contact with it and wild animals come in contact with it, she says. “It has long-lasting effects on breeding and reproduction of animals. It’s really sad to see this broad color of oil. ”
Associated Press reporters Felicia Fonseca of Phoenix and Julie Walker of New York contributed.