Efforts continue to clean massive spill that closed several O.C. beaches, left birds and marine life covered in oil

California

Efforts to clean up a massive spill that has closed several beaches, and left birds and marine life covered in oil off the Orange County coast were paused Monday afternoon due to lightning strikes, officials said.

Officials say the damaged pipeline that allowed approximately 144,000 gallons of oil to spill into the ocean over the weekend is no longer leaking. But Monday evening, authorities did revise their estimate of the amount spilled, up from 126,000 gallons.

But clean-up efforts were put on hold around 2:45 p.m. Monday as a lightning storm descended on Southern California. There were 2,074 lighting strikes detected over Orange, San Diego and Riverside counties, according to the National Weather Service.

Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in Orange County due to the oil spill Monday night, a move he said was meant to “cut red tape and mobilize all available resources to protect public health and the environment.”

An incident command center was being set up in Long Beach, where state wildlife and emergency officials will coordinate with the U.S. Coast Guard, local agencies and other groups responding to the crisis.

The pipeline is connected to an oil platform located about 6 miles offshore known as Elly, which is owned by Houston-based Amplify Energy. Divers were on location Sunday at the potential source site and have since examined more than 8,000 feet of pipe.

“We’ve isolated one specific area of significant interest,” Martyn Willsher, Amplify Energy’s CEO, said at a news conference Monday. “We’re moving very closely to a source and a cause of the incident.”

The area was identified primarily by a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), but the divers were being sent down to verify what was seen, Wilshire added.

When asked at the news conference if the leak could have been caused by a ship’s anchor striking a pipeline on the ocean floor, Willshire said that was one of the possible causes.

Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer was adamant that Amplify Energy not send divers down to the pipeline. He said they are “biased and self-interested” and will do “everything they can to reduce their damages.

Spitzer said the only divers who should be investigating should be from law enforcement.

As a precautionary measure, all of the Company’s production and pipeline operations at the Beta Field have since been shut down.

Elly sits in federal waters off the Los Angeles County coast and processes crude oil production from two other platforms.

The spill was first reported Saturday and had left a plume of oil about 6 miles long from Huntington Beach to Dana Point, as of Sunday afternoon.

Officials estimated the spill to be about 13 square miles in size.

The U.S. Coast Guard is leading the response and has deployed several miles of booms into the ocean to contain the spill. On Sunday, the agency said it recovered some 3,150 gallons of oil from the water.

Skimming boats and cleanup crews are also trying to limit damage from the largest oil leak since 416,000 gallons spilled from an oil tanker off the coast of Huntington Beach in 1990.

A crew of 320 people and 14 boats was supporting the coastal clean-up effort, officials said.  

Beaches in Huntington, Newport and Laguna are closed indefinitely. The city of Newport Beach is advising residents to avoid contact with the ocean water and oiled areas of the beach.

“There shouldn’t be anybody swimming. We are proactively trailing the beach and notifying people to get out of the water,” Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr said Sunday.

Fishing was also off-limits between Sunset Beach and Dana Point from the shoreline to 6 miles out, according to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Clumps of oil washed ashore over the weekend at the Talbert Marsh, which is home to about 90 species of birds, according to the Huntington Beach Wetlands Conservancy.

Wetlands & Wildlife Care Center personnel are working to help oil-covered animals as they are brought in from the beaches and coastal areas.

The public is asked not to try to help clean any animals themselves.  

“We’re asking people to avoid going to the beach and to not touch the animals… because it is toxic,” Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley said.

People are instead asked to call the Oiled Wildlife Care Network at 877-823-6926.

Huntington Beach city officials said crews had deployed over 2,000 feet of skimmers and floating barriers by Sunday afternoon at seven wetland locations in an attempt to corral the oil.

The spill also prompted the cancellation of the final day of the Great Pacific Airshow. Officials say the decision to cancel the popular event was made so that the city, along with the Coast Guard and state agencies, could focus on the cleanup and investigation of the oil spill.

Developments on the spill can be monitored at socalspillresponse.com.

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