A large oil spill off the southern California coast was described as an “environmental catastrophe” by the mayor of Huntington Beach on Sunday, as the breach of an oil rig pipeline left dead fish and birds strewn on the sand and offshore wetlands clogged with oil.
An estimated 126,000 gallons, or 3,000 barrels, had spread into an oil slick covering about 13 square miles of the Pacific Ocean since it was first reported on Saturday morning, said Kim Carr, the mayor of Huntington Beach, at a press conference. The beachside city, about 40 miles south of Los Angeles, was bearing the brunt of the spill.
Carr, who called the spill a “potential ecological disaster,” added: “Our wetlands are being degraded and portions of our coastline are now covered in oil.”
The spill was caused by a breach connected to the Elly oil rig and stretched from the Huntington Beach Pier down to Newport Beach, a stretch of coast popular with surfers and sunbathers.
Carr said the oil rig was operated by Beta Offshore, a California subsidiary of Houston-based Amplify Energy Corporation. Calls to Beta and Amplify went unanswered.
Carr, in her remarks, added: “In the coming days and weeks we challenge the responsible parties to do everything possible to rectify this environmental catastrophe.”
Amplify Energy CEO Martyn Willsher said at a press conference in Long Beach that the pipeline had now been shut off and remaining oil suctioned out. He said divers were still trying to determine where and why the spill occurred.
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U.S. Representative Michelle Steel, a Republican representing part of the affected area, sent a letter to Democratic President Joe Biden requesting a major disaster declaration for Orange County, which would free up federal funds to help with the clean-up efforts.
Oceana, an ocean conservation group, called for an end to offshore oil and gas drilling.
Jacqueline Savitz, Oceana’s chief policy officer, said in a statement: “This is just the latest tragedy of the oil industry. It’s well past time to prevent future oil spills by permanently protecting our coasts from offshore drilling.”
The spill occurred in federal waters. In a statement, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), a division of the Interior Department, said it was supporting response efforts headed by the U.S. Coast Guard.
The bureau said its role was to “assist in identifying the location and source of any spills and provide technical assistance in stopping the spillage.”
On Sunday, the Orange County supervisor Katrina Foley said the oil had infiltrated the Talbert Marsh, a large ecological reserve, causing “significant damage.”
Beaches were closed to swimming and a local air show was canceled, although some people were undeterred from setting up chairs on the beach to enjoy a sunny Sunday or strolling along the pier.
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Carr said officials had deployed 2050 feet of protective booms, which help contain and slow the oil flows.
The U.S. Coast Guard, working with local and state agencies, flew airplanes to assess the spill and had hired contractors to clean it up.
Officials said they were investigating the cause of the spill and the type of oil involved.
(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Additional reporting by Tim Reid and Nichola Groom in Los Angeles; Editing by Steve Orlofsky, Aurora Ellis and Daniel Wallis)