Massive California oil spill threatens wildlife and closes beaches

By Veronica Rocha, Melissa Macaya and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 8:06 p.m. ET, October 4, 2021
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6:28 p.m. ET, October 4, 2021

Authorities consider ship's anchor as possible cause of oil spill

From CNN's Cheri Mossburg

Authorities are examining whether a ship’s anchor could have caused the devastating oil spill just off the Orange County coast over the weekend.

“These ships are anchored and many are awaiting entry into the San Pedro Bay Port complex the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. And in the course of transit it is possible that they would transit over pipeline,” US Coast Guard Capt. Rebecca Ore said in a news conference Monday.

Meanwhile, response efforts to the oil spill on Southern California’s coast line have doubled in the past 24 hours as officials continue to fly over the area and assess the leak from the water, according to the US Coast Guard.

Oil is appearing along the coast in the form of tar balls and tar patties from Huntington Beach to Laguna Beach, which are closed as a result.

A fleet of boats are using booms and skimmers to isolate and contain the oil, which Ore calls a “complex, dynamic, and evolving situation.”

Additionally, 14 vessels are on water in addition to the Coast Guard and four teams are assessing the footprint of the spill, taking particular note of seven locally sensitive sites including Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve and Talbert Marsh, according to Lt. Christian Corbo of California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Newport Beach Fire Chief Jeff Boyles said his agency received multiple reports of a smell up and down the coast from lifeguards and police officers. Those reports were all unconfirmed, and Boyles said “about once a month methane-type smells are reported, sometimes with the receding tide.”

 

7:07 p.m. ET, October 4, 2021

District attorney says he's "alarmed by" what he heard from energy company about their leak investigation

(KCAL/KCBS)
(KCAL/KCBS)

Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said he is "deeply concerned" about the economic and wildlife impact to the area affected by the oil spill.

"Somebody is going to pay for that," he said.

Spitzer said that he has assigned investigators from his office to probe the incident. However, Spitzer said that he is still determining if he, as a local district attorney, has jurisdiction over the leak. This will be determined based on where the rupture in the pipeline occurred, Spitzer said.

Spitzer said that he is "alarmed by" what he heard from the pipeline company, Amplify Energy, about the state of their internal investigation, in particular, that they are sending their own divers to the site of the leak to examine the leak.

He said that no diver from the company "should touch that pipeline."

On Twitter, Spitzer reiterated his position saying in a series of tweets, "It is sickening to witness the destruction to our beautiful Orange County beaches and the lasting economic devastation that this disaster will cause to our county."

"Our beaches and coastline are what draw people from around the world to Orange County and the people responsible for endangering our wildlife and marring our picturesque beaches and shorelines must be held accountable," another tweet said.
4:06 p.m. ET, October 4, 2021

Investigators are narrowing in on the source of the oil leak

From CNN's Cheri Mossburg

Floating barriers known as booms try to stop the further incursion of oil into Talbert Marsh on October 4.
Floating barriers known as booms try to stop the further incursion of oil into Talbert Marsh on October 4. (Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP)

Investigators using remotely operated underwater vehicles have narrowed in on the section of pipeline believed to be the source of the oil leak responsible for defiling Southern California’s coastal waters and pristine beaches, Amplify Energy President and CEO Martyn Willsher said in a news conference.

“There is no active leak that we are aware of, especially in that specific area,” said Willsher, a further indication that the leak has been staunched.

Divers will be going down to inspect that specific section of the pipeline later today, and Willsher acknowledged that a ship’s anchor is a “distinct possibility” of causing the damage, though a cause has not yet been determined.

He expected the source of the oil spill would be reported within the next 24 hours.

According to Willsher, the crude oil pipeline is cleaned weekly, and regular inspections measure wall thickness. “We have never seen degradation of pipe from the inside,” Willsher said.

Amplify Energy is insured, Willsher said, and will pay for the costs of the cleanup. 

4:01 p.m. ET, October 4, 2021

Maximum amount of oil spilled is about "127,000 gallons," CEO of company who owns pipeline says

(KCAL/KCBS)
(KCAL/KCBS)

Martyn Willsher, president and chief executive officer of Amplify Energy, said that the maximum amount of oil that spilled during the leak off the coast of Southern California is about 3,111 barrels — or 127,000 gallons.

The pipeline that caused the leak is owned by the Houston-based oil and gas company. Willsher said that the company is continuing to investigate to determine the "actual" amount of oil that spilled and they will "update when we can."

The CEO said he expects to know more "within the next 24 hours" and provide a "much better answer."

According to Willsher, there is "no active leak" that the company is aware of.

More on the pipeline: The facilities operating the pipeline were built in the late 1970s and early 1980s and are inspected every other year, including during the pandemic, Willsher said in a news conference Sunday.

Amplify is a small, independent company with 222 employees as of the end of 2018, the last time it reported its staff size in a company filing. Its most recent financial report shows sales of $153 million, with year-to-date losses of $54.4 million through the end of June.

The company that operates the pipeline, Beta Operating Company LLC, is a subsidiary of Amplify Energy and has been cited by federal regulators for more than 100 violations over the past 11 years, including at least two that led to worker injuries, government and court records show.

Beta Operating Company LLC, has had 125 incidents of non-compliance documented by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, a federal agency that oversees the offshore drilling industry. Of those, bureau records show, 53 were warnings, 71 were "component shut-in" violations, and one was a "facility shut-in" violation.

CNN's Casey Tolan, Joe Sutton and Susannah Cullinane contributed reporting to this post. 

4:08 p.m. ET, October 4, 2021

Fishing blocked along some parts of California coast following the spill, state official says

From CNN's Josiah Ryan

The state of California has issued fishing limits along the coast due to the massive oil spill off the coast of Huntington Beach, an official said today.

"The closure extends out six miles and a swath of about 20 miles long," said Christian Corbo, a patrol lieutenant of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, during a news conference this afternoon. 

"The closure basically prevents and prohibits the take of any fish within those waters," he continued. "We'll have actively, patrol boats, from Fish and Wildlife patrolling those waters, advising recreational and commercial fishermen of those closures."

Corbo went on to describe the impact the spill has had on local fauna, saying his agency had collected four seabirds so far, three of which are being cared for. 

"Three of those birds are currently being cared for by professionals, one... a pelican, sustained wing injuries which unfortunately we had to humanely euthanize at the site," he said.

3:22 p.m. ET, October 4, 2021

Oil spill stretches from Huntington Beach to Laguna Beach, Coast Guard says

(KCAL/KCBS)
(KCAL/KCBS)

US Coast Guard Capt. Rebecca Ore said that they have observed oil along the Southern California coastline that is moving in a "southerly direction."

"We know there's oil from Huntington Beach, and as far down from Laguna, and likely continuing to move in a southerly direction based on the wind and the weather and the currents," Ore said.

The Coast Guard is continuing to increase staffing to aid in the recovery effort, Ore said.

"We've more than doubled the level of effort just since yesterday and those numbers will go up," she said.

3:13 p.m. ET, October 4, 2021

NOW: Agencies provide update on oil spill and cleanup efforts

Representatives from the US Coast Guard, California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response, and Amplify Energy are providing an update on the oil spill that caused an estimated 126,000 gallons of crude to leak off the Southern California coast.

The leak appears to have stopped and oil removal efforts are underway, officials said Sunday. 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 breach, reported Saturday, occurred about 5 miles off the coast of Huntington Beach in Orange County, local officials said.

Divers have been inspecting the 17-mile pipeline, hoping to find its exact source. The cause of the leak remains unknown.

CNN's Joe Sutton and Susannah Cullinane contributed reporting to this post. 

1:29 p.m. ET, October 4, 2021

Multiple oiled birds recovered since the spill occurred, wildlife care group says

Oiled birds are seen arriving at the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach, California on October 3.
Oiled birds are seen arriving at the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach, California on October 3. From City of Huntington Beach

Dr. Michael Ziccardi, director of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN), provided details today on its efforts thus far to recover wildlife affected by the spill along the California coast.

OWCN recovered three live oiled birds — a brown pelican, an American coot, and a sanderling — last night and another bird was collected Monday morning. OWCN was forced to euthanize the pelican, Ziccardi said.

The group has received reports of sightings of other oiled gulls and they are currently using various capture and care techniques to try to recover the birds.

OWCN has received 300 calls to its hotline and 20 animals were observed to be oiled.

1:33 p.m. ET, October 4, 2021

Officials urge public not to help capture oiled animals, but instead report sightings 

Dr. Michael Ziccardi, director of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN), said the biggest thing the public can do right now to help with wildlife rescue efforts in the Huntington Beach area after the oil spill is to not try to catch oiled animals, but instead report those sightings immediately.

Individuals can report those sightings via the hotline number (877) 823-6926 and their reports will be "immediately responded to." The official said that to date, they have received 300 calls to their hotline, but only 20 of them have been calls involving animals that have been observed to be oiled.

"It's not safe for the animals and its note safe for them because oil can be a toxic substance," Ziccardi said of the dangers of trying to capture an animal that has been impacted by the oil spill.

The official said they are not currently taking general volunteers. They have 1,600 people currently trained in specialized capture and care techniques.

If individuals are interested in volunteering once those opportunities open up, they can check for those openings at a later time.