Southern California beaches reopened on Monday, Oct. 11 at 6 a.m. after over a week of abandonment following a large oil spill off the coast of Huntington Beach.
On Saturday, Oct. 2, the Coast Guard confirmed an oil spill five miles off the coast of Huntington Beach, California. The oil was discovered to be leaking from a pipeline owned by Amplify Energy — one of the largest oil production companies in the state. This spill, estimated to be between 24,696 and 131,000 gallons in magnitude, sparked environmental concern as globs of petroleum and birds coated in crude oil washed ashore.
The timeline of the event is slightly unclear, however, it is known that at some point between 2:30 a.m. and 9:00 a.m on Saturday, Oct. 2, Amplify Energy became aware that their pipeline was leaking. While the company did not report the spill to the Coast Guard until 9:10 a.m., there have been reports that employees first received an alert of low pressure in the pipeline at 2:30 a.m.
Situated along the ocean floor, the pipeline now has a 13-inch split and was dragged more than 100 feet, giving it a bent shape. According to CalMatters, it is highly plausible that the leak was caused by the pipeline being struck by a ship’s anchor. While ships in the area are instructed to only drop anchors in specific places to avoid mistakes such as this one, it is not unlikely that an accident might have occurred with the amount of commercial ship traffic that passes through.
An investigation has been launched into the cause and timing of the spill. This investigation will look for negligence on the part of Amplify Energy, including excessive time passing between their discovery of and reporting of the incident. Oftentimes, companies responsible for oil spills are required under law to pay hefty fines in accordance with damages caused to natural resources and the local economy. After the 1990 spill in Huntington Beach, a number of companies — including British Petroleum — were fined approximately $27 million in damages.
California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife has been working tirelessly to clean up the spill and contain it from moving south towards environmental treasures such as the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. Through the use of booms, they have been able to contain and collect thousands of gallons of oil from the water’s surface.
Additionally, over 1,400 workers and volunteers helped to clean beaches. According to the Los Angeles Times, they recovered 14 barrels of tar balls and 250,000 pounds of oil-contaminated sand and debris with their efforts.
The most significant concerns surrounding the recent oil spill are in regards to the environment. While it can be difficult to assess the damage caused by spills this early on, wildlife and ecosystems have been impacted. Already, we have seen dozens of birds appear on beaches coated in crude oil — including several snowy plovers, an endangered bird species native to the Pacific coast.
According to the NOAA, crude oil is a toxic substance which causes both physical and biochemical damage to birds, marine mammals and bottom-dwelling organisms. Oil breaks down fur and feathers, ruining their insulating properties and leading to hypothermia in many animals. It can also impair animals’ abilities to swim or fly, oftentimes leading to drowning.
Chemically, crude oil contains toxic substances which have been known to cause cancer and inhibit heart development in fish. These effects are long-lasting and some of the chemicals in petroleum have the ability to persist in the environment for years.