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Possible Cause of California Oil Spill: Ship's Anchor

Divers are investigating the 'distinct possibility'
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 4, 2021 12:00 AM CDT
Updated Oct 5, 2021 12:48 AM CDT
Devastating Oil Spill Could Close California Beaches for Months
Oil is shown washed up in Huntington Beach, Calif., Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021.   (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

(Newser) Update: Officials are investigating whether a ship's anchor might have struck an oil pipeline, causing 126,000 gallons of oil to spill into the ocean off the coast of Orange County, Calif., over the weekend, the AP reports. Divers were examining the pipeline to make a determination, and more information was expected later Tuesday. Meanwhile, records show the first report of a possible oil spill came in to the Coast Guard on Friday night, more than 12 hours before the company reported the leak in its pipeline and the cleanup was launched, the AP reports. Our original story from Monday follows:

At least 126,000 gallons of oil spilled into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of southern California over the weekend, killing fish and birds, closing beaches, and shutting down an oceanfront air show. Though the cause was not immediately clear, officials said there was a failure in a 17.5-mile pipeline that connects to an offshore oil platform, Elly, operated by Beta Offshore. The leak took place three miles off the coast of Newport Beach, and the 13-square-mile oil slick, which was still growing Sunday, spanned from that city to Huntington Beach, the New York Times reports.

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An oil sheen was first reported to the Coast Guard around 9am Saturday, but the Orange County supervisor says it had "probably been leaking longer than we know." Local residents say they could smell oil fumes Friday night. As of Sunday morning, the leak had not been completely stopped, but cleanup efforts were underway, CNN reports. However, later Sunday, the CEO of Amplify Energy Corp., which owns Beta, said the pipeline had been shut off and the remaining oil suctioned out, Reuters reports. All the platforms of the Elly site have been shut down, the CEO says. It's not clear how long cleanup might take, or how long beaches would be closed, though the AP reports the closures could last months.

This is "one of the most devastating situations our community has dealt with in decades," the mayor of Huntington Beach says. The supervisor notes that "the oil has infiltrated the entirety of the (Talbert) Wetlands," a 25-acre ecological reserve, and that "there's significant impacts to wildlife there." Dead birds and fish have been washing up onshore, along with oil, and an expert says it will likely take days to know the impacts on marine mammals. "We’re preparing for the worst but hoping for the best," she says, noting that seals, sea lions, whales, and dolphins could all potentially be impacted.

California's worst marine oil spill took place when 4.2 million gallons of crude spilled into the ocean off Santa Barbara in 1969; until the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, that was the worst in the entire country, the Los Angeles Times reports. Since then, both have been overtaken by the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010, which sent 134 million gallons into the Gulf of Mexico. In California, the worst oil spill in decades took place just six years ago, when more than 100,000 gallons spilled into the ocean off Santa Barbara, resulting in a $22 million settlement reached last year. (Read more California stories.)

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