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Wildlife impacted by Huntington Beach oil spill; crews recover tar balls

A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter conducted a flyover of the Huntington Beach coast Saturday after a roughly 2.5-mile-long oil sheen was spotted in the ocean water, with officials saying they did not observe any remaining recoverable sheen.

Tar balls were observed along the shoreline, however, and onshore recovery teams were assessing the shoreline and will remove them as needed, according to a Unified Command consisting of the U.S. Coast Guard, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

The largest tar ball was 15 centimeters but others were six centimeters, the Coast Guard’s Richard Uranga told City News Service. Uranga added that the cleanup effort would continue until sunset.

There were no beach closures in effect Saturday, but officials said a notice to mariners and a safety zone were in effect 1,000 yards around any response vessel.

Four live birds were being cared for by the Oiled Wildlife Care Network. Three of the birds — a cormorant, loon and grebe — were visibly oiled, and responders also captured an injured, unoiled snowy plover who was
taken for care. Authorities asked anyone observing oiled wildlife not to attempt to capture the animals, but to report observations to 1-877-UCD-OWCN (1-877-823-6926).

The CDFW consulted with the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, and based on information received from on-scene responders, the OEHHA found there is not likely to be a public health threat associated with consuming fish due to the incident. No fisheries closures were ordered, but the OEHHA is advising against fishing in areas with a visible sheen on the water.

The Coast Guard’s Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach Command Center said it received a report at 6:50 p.m. Thursday of an unknown substance in the water 1.5 miles off the coast of Huntington Beach.

Coast Guard Pollution Responders got underway at 6:30 a.m. Friday with a Newport Harbor Patrol boat to investigate. A Coast Guard helicopter also conducted an overflight in the area at sunrise. Upon investigation, an oil sheen was discovered that spanned 2.5 miles in length and a half-mile in width, roughly 2.8 miles off Huntington Beach near platforms Emmy and Eva, according to the Coast Guard.

Approximately 85% of the sheen, roughly 85 gallons of product, was recovered before the deteriorating sea state caused operations to pause for the evening, the Unified Command announced at 8:19 p.m. Friday.

The cause of the sheen was still being investigated.

“For clarification, reports that Platform Elly reported a discharge of produced water on the morning of March 8 are correct,” the Unified Command said Saturday. “Still, the characteristics of the produced water from Platform Elly do not align with what was observed from the sheen. At this time, we do not believe the sheen and the discharge are related.”

Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley visited Dog Beach in Huntington Beach on Friday and got some of the tar on her shoes, but she said the problem appears to be contained.

“It’s contained is what I understand, but they’re still investigating and the good news is we have all the resources out there,” Foley said. “And they’ll get it cleaned up quickly.”

Foley said regular Dog Beach visitors reported the tar balls were worse than usual.

Meanwhile, the Orange County Health Care Agency warned beach visitors about touching the tar balls.

“Contact with crude oil can pose health risks,” said Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, County Health Officer. “Residents and visitors are advised to take caution in affected areas  and to avoid touching visible tar.”

Crude oil poses a risk of skin contact contamination and may emit volatile components into the air, including toxic chemicals, the HCA’s Environmental Health Division said. Prolonged exposure to these substances can lead to health issues including skin, eye, nose and throat irritation, headache, dizziness, upset stomach, vomiting and coughing or shortness of breath. People with preexisting respiratory conditions such as asthma, as well as the elderly and children are particularly vulnerable to adverse effects from inhaling oil vapors.

An oil spill in the same general area in 2021 led to reforms that appear to have improved the response, Foley said.

“We have a better system in place now,” Foley said. “Everybody is all coordinated now — better than they were before so they got a quick response out there.”

Brady Bradshaw of the oceans program at the Center for Biological Diversity called discovery of the sheen “grim,” adding, “We have to do a lot more than just try to mop up the miles-long mess.”

“This same tangle of pipelines and platforms produced the massive 2021 spill, and it’s time for state and federal regulators to take tough, urgent action to get this decrepit infrastructure out of the ocean,” Bradshaw said in a statement. “California’s wildlife and coastal communities have suffered too much for too long and there’s no more room for excuses.”

The 2021 spill dumped about 25,000 gallons of oil into the ocean, forcing the cancellation of the final day of that year’s Pacific Airshow. The oil spilled from an underwater pipeline that carries crude from several offshore drilling platforms to a processing plant in Long Beach. Investigators ultimately determined the pipeline was damaged by the dragging of a cargo ship’s anchor.

That spill led to multiple lawsuits, millions of dollars in settlements and fines against pipeline owner Amplify Energy Corp.

Newport Beach officials issued a statement Friday saying they were “actively monitoring” the oil, but did not believe it poses a threat to the city.


Source: NBC Los Angeles

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