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Surf's Up Again After Oil Spill

Hazmat crews work alongside California beachgoers after reopening
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 11, 2021 7:10 PM CDT
Huntington Beach Reopens After Oil Spill
Beachgoers recline Monday as workers in protective suits clean the contaminated beach in Huntington Beach, Calif.   (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

(Newser) – Surfers and swimmers returned to the waves Monday at a popular Southern California beach that was shut for more than a week after an undersea pipeline leaked crude oil into the ocean. The reopening of Huntington Beach—dubbed "Surf City USA"—came far sooner than many expected after a putrid smell blanketed the coast and blobs of crude began washing ashore, the AP reports. City and state park officials decided to reopen the shoreline in Huntington Beach after water quality tests revealed no detectable levels of oil-associated toxins in the ocean. Workers in hazmat suits tasked with removing oily blobs continued to comb the sand on Monday.

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That was good enough for Andrew Boyack, a 54-year-old commercial photographer, who usually surfs the waves in his hometown three or four times a week but has stayed out since the spill. "There's lots of guys out, so I figure it's probably all right, and I guess they tested it," Boyack said, while rinsing off at an outdoor beach shower. The surf-loving city of 200,000 people and nearby coastal communities have been reeling from the spill. The ocean has been closed, a popular air show canceled, fisheries shuttered, and local shops have been walloped. The environmental impact on wetland habitats has been less severe than initially feared, but advocates are concerned about the long-term effects of the spill.

The shoreline in nearby Newport Beach also was reopened Monday after water quality testing revealed no unhealthful levels of oil-related toxins, said a city spokesman. Coast Guard officials said a pipeline owned by Houston-based Amplify Energy that shuttles crude from offshore platforms to the coast leaked at least about 25,000 gallons and no more than 132,000 gallons of crude oil into the ocean. The spill was confirmed on Oct. 2. Officials have said the cause remains under investigation, and they believe the pipeline was likely damaged by a ship's anchor several months to a year before it ruptured.

On an overcast Monday, a handful of people played volleyball while others walked, jogged, or biked on a path along the beach. Surfers in wetsuits jogged to the shore carrying their boards, eager to return to the waves, some after being shooed away over the weekend by lifeguards on jet skis, per the AP. Still, there were far fewer people in the water than usual, said Sean Rinehart, a surf instructor. Rinehart decided not to go in after the smell of dead fish gave him pause. He last surfed Oct. 2, when he wound up in an oil slick. His skin, even now, is itching, he said. Matt Harty, a 61-year-old retiree and surfer, said this spill didn't seem as bad as others. "This is the cleanest I've seen the beach in years, right, because there's been nobody here for a week," Harty said. "I think they cleaned it up really well."

(Read more oil spill stories.)

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