Major oil spill kills wildlife, cancels air show at Huntington Beach

HUNTINGTON BEACH (KUSI) – A 126,000-gallon oil spill from an offshore rig was causing major ecological damage in the waters off Huntington Beach Sunday, as officials closed the area to beachgoers and canceled the final day of the Pacific Airshow.

The U.S Coast Guard was leading the response to the spill, which covers about 5.8 nautical miles between the Huntington Beach Pier and Newport Beach. The spill emanated from a facility operated by Beta Offshore about five miles offshore, and was likely caused by a pipeline leak.

Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr said the spill of 3,000 barrels worth of oil was reported at about 9 a.m. Saturday and drew a response from all levels of government, with a unified command established to handle the environmental crisis.

Carr described the situation as a “potential ecologic disaster,” and said some of the oil had reached the shore and was impacting the Talbert Marshlands and the Santa Ana River Trail.

“The spill has significantly affected Huntington Beach, with substantial ecological impacts occurring at the beach and at the Huntington Beach Wetlands,” a city statement said.

Skimming equipment and booms were deployed to prevent the inflow of oil into the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve and Huntington Beach Wetlands. The California Department of Fish & Wildlife set up the Oiled Wildlife Care Network hotline, at 877-823-6926, for people to call if they see wildlife impacted from the oil. Members of the public were urged not to approach wildlife.

The city also closed ocean access from the Pier down to the Santa Ana River jetty. Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley — who represents the impacted cities of Newport Beach, Huntington Beach and Seal Beach — said Sunday morning that access to the beaches would be restricted too so officials could continue cleanup efforts.

People were also urged not to fish in the area since the waters are considered toxic.

“The city fully acknowledges the gravity of the decision to cancel the final day of the iconic Pacific Airshow, and the disappointment that this decision will cause,” Huntington Beach officials said in a statement. “However, the need for prompt and intensive intervention efforts requires complete and unfettered access to the marine environment.”

About 1.5 million people attended the show Saturday, officials said.

Health officials warned people not to swim, surf or exercise by the beach because of the potential health hazards.

The unified command said the public was being asked to avoid any oiled areas. Trained spill response contractors were cleaning up the disaster. “Public volunteers are not needed and could hinder response efforts,” they said.

The Coast Guard was coordinating the response to the spill and investigating how it occurred. The most current information indicates the leak has not been completely stopped but preliminary patching was completed to repair the oil spill site and repair efforts were ongoing Sunday.

“Workers moved to shut down the pipeline and used pressurized equipment to retrieve as much oil as possible soon after the incident was reported at 12:18 p.m.,” Kate Conrad of Beta Offshore told the Los Angeles Times.

Foley said the spill has already killed some fish and birds.

“Significant ecological impacts in HB. Oil has washed up now onto the HB beachfront. We’ve started to find dead birds & fish washing up on the shore,” Foley tweeted at 12:48 a.m. She added that the damage from the spill could be irreversible, calling the beaches and marshlands “part of our heritage” that draw countless numbers of people to the shore.

An estimated 3,400 birds were killed when the American Trader oil tanker ran over its anchor and punctured its hull on February 7, 1990 spilling an estimated 416,600 gallons of crude oil off the coast of Huntington Beach, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife website.

As a result of the spill, the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center was established March 31, 1998 at 21900 Pacific Coast Highway to help injured and orphaned wildlife including oil-soiled birds. A makeshift facility at that site treated birds injured in the American Trader spill in 1990, according to the center’s website.

Foley told KTLA5 that she was on a call Sunday morning with the mayor and city manager of Newport Beach and Huntington Beach, along with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department Harbor Patrol and the coordinators for the incident management team.

She said the oil had not made it to Newport Beach yet, but “softball- size clumps” of oil were seen on the Huntington Beach shoreline.

Foley added that Newport Beach Mayor Brad Avery, an avid boater, was on his way back from a trip to Catalina Island and navigated through the spill, spotting dolphins swimming through the oil.

Categories: California News, Good Morning San Diego, Health, Local San Diego News