Authorities Close Miles of Orange County Beaches as a Giant Oil Spill Washes Ashore

Huntington Beach officials say the incident has already caused “significant ecological impacts” to beaches and wetlands

A ruptured pipeline off the Huntington Beach coast Saturday sent an estimated 126,000 gallons of crude oil gushing into the waters, killing marine life and forcing the closure of beaches as a plume stretched roughly 5.8 miles from the Huntington Beach Pier to the Newport City line by early Sunday.

The busted pipeline—connected to an offshore platform known as Elly less than three miles off the Hunting Beach coast—has already released more oil than the 58,000 gallons unleashed in San Francisco Bay in 2007, when a cargo ship hit the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. That spill killed more than 6,800 birds.

Crews are currently working to contain the damage, as officials report the crude has seeped into the Talbert Marsh.

Orange County Rep. Michelle Steel sent a letter to President Biden Sunday requesting a major disaster declaration for the county in order to release additional federal assistance for state and local agencies, as well as individuals impacted by the spill, the Los Angeles Times reports.

“It is imperative that the federal government assist in recovery efforts,” Steel wrote. “I have serious concerns about the environmental impacts of the spill and applaud the workers who are doing their best to prevent the oil from hitting sensitive wetlands.”

Huntington Beach city spokeswoman Jennifer Carey told the paper, “We classify this as a major spill, and it is a high priority to us to mitigate any environmental concerns. It’s all hands on deck.”

Huntington Beach officials say the incident has already caused “significant ecological impacts” to beaches and wetlands. The Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach is getting ready to treat wildlife hit by the spill but the extent of the damage to local fauna is unclear.

On Sunday morning, Orange County biologist and environmental consultant Ben Smith went to the mouth of the Santa Ana River at the border of Huntington State Beach and Newport Beach to survey the impact where the river meets the ocean.

“There’s tar everywhere,” he tells the Times. “If the birds get into this tar it’s going to stick to their feathers and it’s going to be a problem for them. It contaminated the water—it’s bad for the wildlife, bad for the water, bad for the people who use the water. It’s really unfortunate.”

Along with the beaches, the final day of the Pacific Airshow has been canceled.

Officials are urging people not to approach wildlife that may have been impacted by the spill, and to call the UC Davis Oiled Wildlife Care Network at (877) 823-6926.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife rep Eric Loughlin adds that good Samaritans should not attempt their own cleanups: “Members of the public should avoid the oiled shoreline, as the area is unsafe and should be cleaned only by trained contractors.”

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