'Catastrophic' California oil spill kills fish, damages wetlands

The spill, caused by a breach connected to the Elly oil rig, spread spread into an oil slick covering about 20 square kilometres of the Pacific Ocean.

A major oil spill fouls southern California beaches.

Oil washed up on Huntington State Beach after a 126,000-gallon oil spill from an offshore oil platform. Source: Getty Images North America

A large oil spill off the southern California coast has left fish dead, birds mired in petroleum and wetlands contaminated, prompting local officials to call it an environmental catastrophe.

The US Coast Guard, heading a clean-up response involving federal, state and city agencies, said on Sunday there was an around-the-clock investigation into how the spill occurred.

An estimated 126,000 gallons, or 3,000 barrels, had spread into an oil slick covering about 20 square kilometres of the Pacific Ocean since it was first reported on Saturday morning, said Kim Carr, the mayor of Huntington Beach, at a press conference.

She called the spill an "environmental catastrophe" and a "potential ecological disaster". The beachside city, about 65km south of Los Angeles, was bearing the brunt of the spill.

"Our wetlands are being degraded and portions of our coastline are now covered in oil," Ms Carr said.

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.

Major oil spill sends almost 500,000 litres into the Pacific

Ms 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.

Ms 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 been shut off and remaining oil suctioned out. He said divers were still trying to determine where and why the spill occurred.

'Stop drilling off our precious California coast'

US 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.

Ms Steel later told CNN: "This is a really serious disaster".

Cottie Petrie-Norris, a Democratic state assembly member representing some areas affected by the spill, said she had "huge concerns" about the extent of the damage to the environment, communities and local economy.

She told CNN the spill was a "call to action that we need to stop drilling off our precious California coast".

The oil slick is believed to have originated from a pipeline leak.
Source: Los Angeles Times

Oil production off California's coast has declined sharply since its peak in the 1990s, in part due to the state's strict environmental rules. Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom said he wants to end oil drilling in the state by 2045.

Offshore drilling was restricted in the state after a devastating 1969 oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara that dumped 80,000 barrels into the ocean. More recently another spill off Santa Barbara in 2015 sent as much as 2,400 barrels onto the shore and into the Pacific.

Oceana, an ocean conservation group, also 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. Officials said federal, state and city agencies were involved in a response headed by the US Coast Guard.

On Sunday, 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 cancelled, although some people were undeterred from setting up chairs on the beach to enjoy a sunny Sunday or strolling along the pier.

Ms Carr said officials had deployed 625 metres of protective booms, which help contain and slow the oil flows.

The US 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.


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Published 4 October 2021 at 2:57pm, updated 4 October 2021 at 7:09pm
Source: Reuters - SBS