Ship’s anchor among possible causes of California oil spill

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. — Officials are looking into whether a ship’s anchor may have struck an oil pipeline on the ocean floor, causing a massive leak of crude into waters off Southern California. The head of the company that operates the pipeline said Monday that divers have examined more than 8,000 feet of pipe and are focusing on “one area of significant interest.” Amplify Energy CEO Martyn Willsher said a ship’s anchor striking the pipeline is “one of the distinct possibilities” for the cause of the leak.

Authorities believe the leak could have spilled as much as 127,000 gallons, equivalent to 3,111 barrels, into the ocean. Coast Guard Capt. Rebecca Ore told reporters Monday afternoon that the oil spill is not one large blot.

“I would characterize it as isolated ribbons of oil, or patches of oil,” Ore said. “It’s constantly changing.”

Oil has been detected from Huntington Beach down to Dana Point and will continue flowing south with the current as it stands, with some already being seen in Laguna Beach, Ore said.

“It’s not one large slick of oil covering this large area of miles,” she said.

Martyn Willsher, president and chief executive of Houston-based Amplify Energy, parent company of the oil rig Elly, said his company plans to send divers down to inspect a pipeline “to verify what we’re seeing” from Remotely Operated Vehicles, or ROV, scans in hopes of confirming a cause of the leak.

Willsher said there are no active leaks across the pipeline.

According to the Coast Guard, 14 boats conducted oil recovery operations Sunday afternoon, while three Coast Guard boats enforced a safety zone of 1,000 yards around oil spill boats. Four aircrafts were sent to assess damage and progress.

About 3,150 gallons of oil has so far been recovered from the water and 5,360 feet of boom has been deployed to control the spread of the oil.

The spill was reported at about 9 a.m. Saturday, although some people reported smelling oil in the water late Friday. It drew a response from all levels of government. Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said she was “not happy about” the leak, but added, “I do commend the state for taking prompt action along with the Coast Guard and local authorities. Everyone has been engaged, working collaboratively.”

All of the beaches under the county’s jurisdiction “have been closed as a precaution,” Bartlett said. County officials want to keep the beaches as clear as possible for first responders to access the area. She said county officials will consider a disaster declaration at Tuesday’s board meeting. Bartlett said the leak doesn’t just have “an impact on tourism, but an impact on sea life and water fowl.”

Huntington Beach Mayor Kim 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.

“Our wetlands are being degraded and portions of our coastline are completely covered in oil,” Carr said Sunday. Carr said the beach closures could last anywhere “from a few weeks to a few months.”

Health officials warned people not to swim, surf or exercise by the beach because of the potential health hazards. People were also urged not to fish in the area since the waters are considered toxic.

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 any animals themselves.

People whose boats sustain oil damage were asked not to clean the boats themselves since they could spread the oil, but to contact county officials who could refer them to the proper channels for possible reimbursement of cleaning expenses.

Dr. Clayton Chau, Orange County’s chief health officer, issued a health advisory Sunday for residents who may have encountered contaminated materials.

“The effects of oil spills on humans may be direct and indirect, depending on the type of contact with the oil spill,” Chau said. “People may come in direct contact with oil and/or oil products while walking in a contaminated area (e.g., beach). An initial irritation will be obvious. Additionally, contaminants may be absorbed through the skin. Even when an oil sheen may not be visible, dispersed and dissolved oil contaminants may exist in the water.

“Please contact your family physician or call 911 if you are experiencing adverse symptoms. Currently, we are asking residents to please refrain from participating in recreational activities on the coastline such as swimming, surfing, biking, walking, exercising, gathering, etc.,” the statement continued.

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