An oil pipeline off the coast of Southern California has spewed more than 100,000 gallons of oil into the Pacific Ocean, coating local wildlife habitats, shutting down a swath of popular beaches and potentially harming human health.
The leak appears to have stopped and oil removal efforts are underway, officials said Sunday.
The breach, reported Saturday, occurred about 5 miles off the coast of Huntington Beach in Orange County, spilling the equivalent of an estimated 3,000 barrels -- or 126,000 gallons -- of post-production crude, local officials said.
Divers have been inspecting the 17-mile pipeline, hoping to find its exact source. The leak's cause remains unknown.
By Sunday night, about 3,150 gallons of oil had been removed from the water and over a mile of oil boom -- floating barriers designed to contain an oil spill -- were deployed, the US Coast Guard said at that time.
'Fourteen boats conducted oil recovery operations Sunday afternoon,' the Coast Guard said. 'Four aircraft were dispatched for overflight assessments. Shoreside response was conducted by 105 government agency personnel.'
Because of the spill, Orange County health officials advised residents to avoid recreational activities on the coastline and recommended that people who may have encountered the oil seek medical attention. Effects of oil or dispersants on people could include eye and skin irritation, headache and vomiting, with children and older people more at risk, an area health agency said.
The city of Laguna Beach announced Sunday evening that all beaches would close to the public beginning at 9 p.m., while Newport Beach issued an advisory warning people to avoid contact with ocean water and areas of beach impacted by oil.
Already, dead birds and fish were washing up on the shore, Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley said Sunday.
'The oil has infiltrated the entirety of the (Talbert) wetlands. There's significant impacts to wildlife there,' she said. '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.'
Sections of the shoreline at Huntington Beach were closed on Saturday, with Mayor Kim Carr on Sunday describing the spill as a 'potential ecological disaster.'
'In a year that has been filled with incredibly challenging issues, this oil spill constitutes one of the most devastating situations that our community has dealt with in decades,' Carr said. 'We are doing everything in our power to protect the health and safety of our residents, our visitors and our natural habitats.'
Cause of leak under investigation
The pipeline is owned by the Houston-based oil and gas company Amplify Energy, its president and CEO Martyn Willsher said at a news conference Sunday afternoon.
The company was working with local, state and federal agencies on recovery efforts, Willsher said.
'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,' he said. '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.'
The company notified the Coast Guard on Saturday morning when employees were conducting a line inspection and noticed a sheen in the water, Willsher said.
The facilities operating the pipeline were built in the late 1970s and early 1980s and are inspected every other year, including during the pandemic, he said.
The pipeline has been 'suctioned at both ends to keep additional crude out,' Willsher said, adding that he doesn't expect more oil to be released.
'We are still assessing to look for the source and figure out,' Eric Laughlin, California Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesperson, said Sunday at a news conference. 'It doesn't appear there's further fuel leaking, but we're still working on identifying that.'
The federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement was assisting in Coast Guard-led response to the oil spill, the agency told CNN. Its role was to assist 'in identifying the location and source of any spills and provide technical assistance to the Unified Command in stopping the spillage,' it said Sunday in a statement.
The National Transportation Safety Board was sending investigators to gather information and assess the source of the oil leak, it said Sunday on Twitter.
Impacts on human health
Human health impacts from excessive exposure to oil or dispersants could include skin, eye, nose and throat irritation, headache, dizziness, vomiting or shortness of breath, the Orange County Health Care Agency said in a health advisory.
'Even when an oil sheen may not be visible, dispersed and dissolved oil contaminants may exist in the water,' County Health Officer Dr. Clayton Chau said.
Anyone experiencing adverse symptoms should contact their doctor, Chau said.
'Inhalation of toxic oil vapors or other aerosolized oil compound particles from wind-blown waves can cause these side effects. The elderly, children, and folks with respiratory diseases such as asthma will be more susceptible to adverse side effects from inhaling the oil vapors,' the agency said.
Correction: A prior version of this story incorrectly spelled Eric Laughlin's last name.
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