Major oil spill washes ashore in Huntington Beach, prompting closures

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Posted at 7:19 AM, Oct 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-03 12:01:48-04

HUNTINGTON BEACH (CNS) - The City of Huntington Beach cancelled the second day of the Pacific Airshow Sunday to facilitate cleanup and reduce health impacts from a 126,000-gallon oil spill that covers about 5.8 nautical miles between the Huntington Beach Pier and Newport Beach.

"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," the city 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 air show Saturday, officials said.

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

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

The city also closed beach access from the Pier down to the Santa Ana River jetty.

Health officials warned people not to swim, surf or exercise by the beach because of the potential health hazards, including toxic fumes, which also threaten marine life and other wildlife.

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.

The US Coast Guard is the lead agency, coordinating the response to the oil 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 will be attempted Sunday.

Beta Offshore is a Southern California oil producer involved in the operation, the Los Angeles Times reported.

"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 Times.

Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley -- who represents the impacted cities of Newport Beach, Huntington Beach and Seal Beach -- said the damage from the spill could be irreversible. She said the beaches and marshlands are "part of our heritage" and 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.