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Massive California oil spill threatens wildlife and closes beaches

126,000 gallons of oil spilled off California coast
02:41

What we covered here

  • A massive oil spill off the coast of Huntington Beach, Orange County, has devastated some local wildlife and forced beach closures.
  • A 17-mile pipeline leaked 3,111 barrels — or about 127,000 gallons — of crude oil into the Pacific Ocean, Amplify Energy’s CEO said.
  • Cleanup efforts are underway and divers are inspecting the pipeline, hoping to find the exact source of the spill, but the leak appears to have stopped, officials say.

Our live coverage has ended. Read more about the oil spill here.

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What we know about the California oil spill so far

Excavators dredge sand to block some of the oil from flowing into Huntington Beach.

Cleanup efforts are underway off the coast of Southern California after a 17-mile pipeline leaked 3,111 barrels — or 127,000 gallons — of crude oil in the ocean, and devastated some local wildlife.

The leak, reported Saturday about 5 miles off the coast of Huntington Beach in Orange County, appears to have stopped, officials said. Meanwhile, divers are inspecting the 17-mile pipeline to find the exact source of the spill.

Here’s what we know so far about the oil spill:

What happened: Amplify Energy notified the Coast Guard on Saturday morning when employees were conducting a line inspection and noticed a sheen in the water, the company president and CEO Martyn Willsher said.

The pipeline has been “suctioned at both ends to keep additional crude out,” Willsher said, adding he doesn’t expect more oil to be released.

The company was working with local, state and federal agencies on recovery efforts, Willsher said.

About the pipeline: The pipeline is owned by the Houston-based oil and gas company Amplify Energy, Willsher said. 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 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.

Wildlife threatened: So far, wildlife experts have recovered four live oiled birds, one of which had to be euthanized. But, the extent of the ecological damage won’t be know for another couple of weeks.

Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley said Sunday dead birds and fish were washing up on the shore.

“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.”

Health risks: Orange County health officials advised residents to avoid recreational activities on the coastline and recommended 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.

Beach closures: The city of Laguna Beach announced Sunday evening 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. 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.”

About the area: The oil spill is just the latest such incident to hit California’s shores, including the 1969 spill of as much as 4.2 million gallons of crude oil near Santa Barbara. Locally, Huntington Beach bore the brunt of a 1990 spill of about 417,000 gallons of crude oil when an oil tanker ran over its anchor and punctured its hull.

How it compares: The current spill, at 126,000 gallons, would fill about 20% of an Olympic-sized pool. Its volume pales in comparison to the most serious oil spills in history, including the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska (11 million gallons) and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico (134 million gallons).

Vacationers spot blobs of oil in Newport Beach

In Newport Beach, a vast expanse of beach was still open with the beach chairs of scattered vacationers dotting the sand. 

Mike McClure, a 46-year-old police officer, and his friend Robert Arnett, 54, were visiting from Mesa, Arizona and said it was the intermittent afternoon thunderstorms that had chased families off the beach rather than the spill — which they said they’d heard little about. 

On this first day of their vacation, Arnett said they’d noticed blobs of oil on the sand ranging from the size of a golf ball to larger than a softball, but had not heard much about the size of the spill. 

McClure said he had seen kids in the waves throughout the day and did not have concerns about going in the water himself after the thunderstorms had passed.

“It seems like you could still go out there and just keep an eye out a little bit,” he said gesturing toward the ocean. “You can see little spots of black on the sand every five yards or 10 yards, but that’s it.”

“Honestly I’m not too concerned, because I’ll be back next year and hopefully it will be good by then. But I’m sure for the people around here, they are probably way more concerned,” McClure said. 

They had watched dolphins swimming along the beach earlier in the day, but had not seen any kind of oil sheen within the waves yet. 

“We made the mistake of picking up one of those little blobs and they are nasty,” Arnett said. 

“We’re just so sad. This is so horrible,” said Jessica Johnson of Newport Beach, who had brought her two sons and their dog to an open portion of Newport Beach to check the waves for signs of oil. So far, they could only see scattered globs of tar on the sand. 

Thirteen-year-old Jay Johnson, who has been surfing for four years, said he was worried it could be weeks, if not months, before it was safe to get back in the water. 

“I check Surfline a lot and it has said you can’t go surfing, because you don’t want to get oil in your lungs and they don’t know how long it will be until it’s completely gone,” Jay Johnson said. “I just think they really shouldn’t have those oil rigs off the coast here anymore.” 

“It doesn’t look too bad here” in Newport Beach, he said, “but I’ve seen pictures from from Huntington and it looks really bad there.” 

“Most everyone I know is really upset and just feeling like this is needless,” Jessica Johnson said. “The spill, it just shouldn’t happen. You should have the technology to be aware. If a tire is leaking on a car, there’s technology now to tell you. There should be bigger protections.”

The world is dependent on fossil fuels. Here's why transforming the system won't happen overnight.

Humans have been burning fossil fuels for energy since the Industrial Revolution. We use them to heat our homes, cook our food and fuel our cars. Over the course of more than a century, fossil fuels became entrenched in every aspect of the economy and people’s lives.

Our reliance on oil, coal and natural gas created the climate crisis, and it threatens ecosystems and human health through acute environmental disasters, like this weekend’s oil spill off the coast of California.

Fossil fuel accounts for more than 80% of global energy consumption, and transforming a system so vastly dependent on them won’t happen overnight, said Iraj Ershaghi, the director of the petroleum engineering department at the University of Southern California.

The challenge, according Rick Steiner, a marine conservationist and oil spill expert, comes down to to either taking advantage of fossil fuel – an affordable and geopolitically vital source of energy – or ensuring the planet’s future viability by leaving most of it in the ground.

“Our whole energy economy is built around easy, cheap fossil fuels, but they’re not that cheap when you really incorporate the long-term economic costs of that we’re starting to see today,” he told CNN. “We need to get serious about reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.”

“No matter how safely the oil industry and governments think they can do this, there’s always a risk,” Steiner said. “Every single one of these offshore oil spill is another indication that we need to be moving away from the [fossil fuel] industry.”

The solution: Experts told CNN the only way to achieve that is through bold, systemic policy changes that would rapidly and equitably transform the entire energy system that people have come to rely on in their daily lives. And Ershaghi said as long as there is demand for oil and gas, companies will not stop extracting fossil fuels.

“Energy companies are looking for cash flow,” he added. “The fact is the demand for our economy runs on oil and gas, and we are not moving fast enough on the renewable areas.”

Still, there are things the government can do. Jacqueline Savitz, chief policy officer for Oceana, a group working to protect the planet’s oceans, said the US could end fossil fuel subsidies, something President Biden pledged to address, and instead fund the transition to clean energy by supporting renewable energy.

Keep reading here.

Here's what it looks like in Huntington Beach as cleanup efforts continue

As the Pacific Coast Highway curves along the open expanse of sand in Huntington Beach, blue banners line the roadway welcoming tourists to “Surf City USA.”

But on Monday, the entry points to those beaches were closed off and abandoned as oil from the massive spill — more than 4.5 miles off shore — marred the coastline, threatening wildlife along this normally sparkling stretch of ocean front.

A short distance to the south near the mouth of the Santa Ana River, workers in white hazmat suits and helmets monitored seepage from the spill into the fragile ecosystem of wetlands that stretch for two miles on the other side of the highway from the ocean. Gulls and shorebirds gathered in the marshy sand of what is a crucial habitat for migrating birds as the rainbow sheen of oil fanned out in shimmering ribbons across the water in the Talbert Channel.

Large clumps of oil had collected around the blue floating partitions placed in the water to contain the spill as thunder boomed overhead and a light rain began to fall.

Mike Ortiz had come out on the Huntington Beach bike path Monday afternoon to survey the damage. The Huntington Beach resident was concerned about the long-term damage and effects on the wildlife, as well as access to his family’s beloved beaches.

“You’d think there would be better safety mechanisms in place to keep it contained earlier — it seems crazy that it got as big as it did before they got a handle on it,” he said.

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

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.”

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

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.

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.

Investigators are narrowing in on the source of the oil leak

Floating barriers known as booms try to stop the further incursion of oil into Talbert Marsh on October 4.

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. 

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

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. 

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

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.

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

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.

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. 

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.

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.

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.

Full extent of oil spill damage won't be known for weeks, officials say

Oil washes up on Huntington Beach, California on Monday, October 4.

Officials in Southern California say the full extent of damage from a major oil spill off the Orange County coast may not be known for weeks.

Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley told CNN on Monday that while officials are aware protected wetlands in the area have been impacted by the spill, assessments are still being made.

“We won’t know the damage for another couple of weeks,” Foley said, adding the situation is “very sad.”

Authorities say the spill, first reported Saturday, is comprised of an estimated 3,000 barrels — or about 126,000 gallons — of crude oil. 

Asked how long area beaches would remain closed due to the oil spill, Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr said it’s too early to tell but said she would like people to be able to access the water as soon as it’s safe.

Newport Beach Mayor Brad Avery also said the spill’s impacts could be felt in the area for some time.

“It’s a very large area, and a lot has to do with wind and currents, so it’s difficult to give a timeline. I think all the agencies would agree on that,” he told CNN.

Laguna Beach closes all beaches following oil spill

All beaches in Laguna Beach are closed as a result of the oil spill contaminating Southern California beaches.

“Due to the toxicity of the spill, residents and visitors are advised to avoid contact with ocean water and oiled areas of the beaches,” the city said in a news release.

The public has been asked to avoid assisting with cleanup efforts. “Trained spill response contractors are working to clean up the oil,” the city said.

What we know about the company who owns the pipeline that caused the oil spill

Oil that has formed into globules, foam and sheen is trapped in a sand pool at the Santa Ana River Jetties in Huntington Beach.

Shares of the owner of the pipeline responsible for the oil spill off the coast of Southern California plunged Monday, as the money-losing company could be on the hook for big penalties.

Amplify Energy, a small, independent oil company active in oil production and drilling in the area, said that its pipeline is the apparent source of the massive oil spill about four miles off the coast near Huntington Beach, California. Authorities say the spill is comprised of an estimated 3,000 barrels, or about 126,000 gallons, of crude oil.

Amplify’s shares plunged about 44% in early trading Monday on news of the spill. Houston-based Amplify was created in 2017 out of the bankruptcy of another small oil company, Memorial Production Partners.

Thanks to a surge in oil prices this year company’s stock had been on a tear, rising 339% year-to-date through the close of trading Friday. Despite those huge gains, Amplify’s stock price Friday was about where it stood before the collapse of energy prices in the early days of the pandemic when oil prices briefly turned negative. Institutional investors own about a third of the company’s shares.

Amplify is a very small company, with only 222 employees as of the end of 2018, the last time it reported the size of its staff 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. Adjusted operating income came in at $47 million. One factor that helped its results was the full forgiveness of a $5.5 million payroll protection program loan from the US Small Business Administration.

Read more about the company here.

CNN is on the ground in Huntington Beach. Here's how the oil spill's impact is unfolding in the area. 

CNN correspondent Natasha Chen reports that California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife has declared fisheries closed in the Huntington Beach area due to the oil spill’s impact.

“So that means that people shouldn’t be fishing in the water. They shouldn’t be consuming fish that may have been affected by the spill because we have also heard reports now of wildlife washing up with oil on them,” Chen reports.

Groups are currently trying to rescue animals as they also attempt to keep as much oil away from the wetlands, Chen says, though “damage has already been done.”

“We’ve seen boats yesterday dragging a boom to try to collect as much oil as possible. There’s been some collected now, but it’s really a small amount compared to the total potential spill amount of more than 120,000 gallons,” she said.

Chen spoke with Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr on the scene who described the situation as “devastating.”

“For me personally, this is a really rough one. I am a beach person, grew up in the beach, am from this area, and so to see this happening in my back yard, it’s devastating. But I also know that the — we’re going to do everything that we can to make this even better than it was before,” she told Chen.

Investigations into the cause of the oil spill continue. The breach, reported Saturday, occurred about five 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.

Watch CNN’s Natasha Chen report on the latest:

02:00

Newport Beach mayor says he spotted "shocking" and "pretty thick" oil off the coast while out on his boat

Newport Beach, California, Mayor Brad Avery told CNN this morning that he spotted oil while out on his own boat on Saturday with his family.

Avery said that he was coming back from Catalina Island when he heard “chatter” on the marine radio that others were seeing oil in the water. Shortly thereafter, Avery himself encountered a patch of oil that was “very extensive and pretty thick.”

“We approached about five miles off — we were going through — going along, and there was some dolphin on our bow, and it was beautiful. We went into this patch of oil that was, you know, very extensive and pretty thick. And it was shocking,” he told CNN.

Asked how long he believes it’s going to take to clean up the spill, Avery said, “Oh, I couldn’t — I couldn’t guess on that.”

Orange County supervisor says she's concerned that it might take years to clean up the spill

Katrina Foley, Orange County supervisor, said there is still confusion about where the leak was occurring in the pipeline.

She told CNN today that officials know that leak was coming from a pipeline “that was decades old.” She said it has been shut off and capped while the investigation continues.

“Yes, we need answers,” Foley said about the persistent confusion about what exactly happened.

Foley said that the wetlands in the area are “saturated with oil” and that crews are recovering animals and cleaning them off.

Asked if this is the type of event that may take years to clean up, Foley said, “That’s my concern.”

She added that she hopes new technology will help mitigate the damage but said “we won’t know the damage for another couple of weeks,” adding the situation is “very sad.”

Some more background: 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.

Willsher said the company was working with numerous local, state and federal agencies on recovery efforts. Yesterday, divers were inspecting the 17-mile pipeline, hoping to find the exact source of the spill, but the leak appears to have stopped, officials said in a news conference Sunday.

The 126,000 gallon oil spill is believed to have occurred about 4.5 miles off shore Saturday morning and reached Orange County’s beaches by Saturday night. 

“The pipeline was suctioned at both ends to keep additional crude out,” Willsher said. “I don’t expect it to be more. That’s the capacity of the entire pipeline.”

CNN’s Cheri Mossburg, Joe Sutton and Susannah Cullinane contributed reporting to this post.

See aerial views of what the oil spill off the coast of California ​looked like Sunday 

Portions of popular beaches across a swath of Southern California have been closed after a pipeline breach sent thousands of gallons of oil into the Pacific Ocean and dead wildlife began washing ashore.

The breach, reported Saturday, occurred about five 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.

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.”

The city of Newport Beach has also issued a beach advisory asking residents and visitors to avoid contact with ocean water and areas of the beach impacted by the oil.

Here are some aerial images of what the scene looked like yesterday:

Oil slick is seen in the water of the Talbert Marshlands area in Newport Beach.
Unified command continues its response to the oil spill off Newport Beach in this photo released by the US Coast Guard.
Oil lines the shore and collects in a pool at the Santa Ana River Jetties in Huntington Beach.

CNN meteorologist: Massive oil spill could become "an environmental disaster"

A worker cleans up the oil spill near Talbert Marsh in Huntington beach on October 3.

CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said today that the fallout from the massive oil spill could become “an environmental disaster” for the Huntington Beach wetlands area that is populated with wildlife.

Myers said that this wetland could become a “real problem,” adding that “we know oil is already in there.”

He said that this area of the California coast is very populated with everything from plankton to birds and various marine life.

Myers said that “lifeless” birds and fish have been spotted in the water.

The meteorologist said that the priority for responders is getting the “muck off the beach — but more importantly, away from the wildlife.”

Here’s a look at the impacted areas:

The cause of the leak is still unknown. Here's where things stand now in the 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.

Willsher said the company was working with numerous local, state and federal agencies on recovery efforts.

“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,” Willsher 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.”

Willsher said his company notified the Coast Guard 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.

Willsher said the pipeline has been “suctioned at both ends to keep additional crude out,” and he doesn’t expect more oil to be released.

The cause of the leak is unknown.

Eric Laughlin, spokesperson for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, said at a news conference Sunday, “We are still assessing to look for the source and figure out. It doesn’t appear there’s further fuel leaking, but we’re still working on identifying that.”

The federal Bureau of Safety, Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) told CNN that it was assisting in the USCG-led response to the oil spill.

In a statement Sunday, the BSEE said 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.”

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said on Twitter Sunday it was sending investigators to gather information and assess the source of the oil leak.

Portions of popular beaches across Southern California close due to oil spill

Huntington Beach lifeguards prepare signs warning people that contact with the water may cause illness, as they close the beach after an oil spill in Huntington Beach, California on October 3.

Orange County health officials issued an advisory asking residents to avoid recreational activities on the coastline and recommending that people who may have encountered the oil seek medical attention.

The city of Laguna Beach announced Sunday evening that all beaches would close to the public beginning at 9 p.m. local time, while Newport Beach issued an advisory warning people to avoid contact with ocean water and areas of beach impacted by oil.

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.”

Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley said Sunday that dead birds and fish were washing up on the shore.

“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 the 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 pipeline leak appears to have stopped, officials say, but investigation into cause continues

Oil gathers around an absorption boom that helps stop the flow into the ecologically sensitive Talbert Marsh.

Divers were inspecting the 17-mile pipeline Sunday which leaked crude oil into Southern California waters on Saturday, hoping to find the exact source of the spill, but the leak appears to have stopped, officials said in a news conference Sunday.

“We are still assessing to look for the source and figure out. It doesn’t appear there’s further fuel leaking, but we’re still working on identifying that,” said Eric Laughlin, a spokesperson for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The 126,000 gallon oil spill is believed to have occurred about 4.5 miles off shore Saturday morning and reached Orange County’s beaches by Saturday night. 

“The pipeline was suctioned at both ends to keep additional crude out,” Amplify Energy CEO Martyn Willsher said. “I don’t expect it to be more. That’s the capacity of the entire pipeline.”

Where things stand in the investigation: While it is believed the leak has been staunched, the investigation continues. Wilshire said the facilities were built in the late 1970s and early 1980s and are inspected every other year, including during the pandemic. About 70 wells feed oil into the Elly platform, which feeds crude oil into affected pipeline, about 80-100 feet underwater. 

A health advisory for Orange County beaches was expected to be issued later Sunday, according to Health Officer Dr. Clayton Chau. Residents and visitors are warned to stay away from the affected areas as contact with the oil or fumes can cause irritation to the skin, eyes, ears, and throat, and can even lead to dizziness and vomiting.

The only wildlife confirmed to be affected by the spill so far is a ruddy duck, and is receiving veterinary care, Laughlin said. Other reports are sure to come in and wildlife rescues are standing by to assist. Officials are urging the public to report any sightings of affected wildlife, but to refrain from trying to help the animals out themselves.

Newport Beach issues beach advisory in response to oil spill

Beachgoers at Newport Beach enjoy the afternoon as boats drag oil booms offshore on October 3.

The city of Newport Beach has issued a beach advisory asking residents and visitors to avoid contact with ocean water and areas of the beach impacted by the oil.

“The City of Newport Beach is advising residents and visitors to avoid contact with ocean water and oiled areas of the beach, following a large oil spill that was identified Saturday off the coast of Newport and Huntington Beach. Oil has been observed on shore in Newport Beach between 52nd street and the Santa Ana River. City beaches will remain open to the public with the water advisory in place. Newport Harbor remains open for boating and general recreational use,” the city said in a news release.

“Unfortunately, the size and potential impact of this oil spill make it necessary for people to stay out of the water and avoid contact with the oil,” said Newport Beach Mayor Brad Avery. “The City’s top priority is to ensure the safety of our residents and visitors during the cleanup effort.”  

About 3,150 gallons of oil has been recovered from coast

Boats help clean up the oil spill in Huntington Beach, California on October 3.

The US Coast Guard (USCG) says approximately 3,150 gallons of oil has been recovered from the water off the coast of Orange County.

Multiple boats and aircraft have been involved with assessments and oil recovery operations on Sunday.

“Fourteen boats conducted oil recovery operations Sunday afternoon. Three Coast Guard boats enforced a safety zone off 1,000 yards around oil spill boats. Four aircraft were dispatched for overflight assessments. Shoreside response was conducted by 105 government agency personnel,” according to the USCG.

 The investigation continues into the cause of the spill.

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