California faces a devastating environmental disaster
Saturday, October 2 was a catastrophic day for Orange County, California. Huntington Beach, a seaside city bordering the Southern California coast, faced a devastating oil spill resulting in the dumping of 126,000 gallons of oil into the Pacific Ocean. Officials attributed the spill to a pipeline failure, which could potentially have occurred due a ship’s anchor getting caught on the pipeline. Huntington Beach confirmed the root of the spill on its website.
“Based on the most current information available, the leak originated from a broken pipeline connected to Oil Platform Elly, an oil rig located off the coast of Huntington Beach and owned by Amplify Energy Corporation based in Long Beach.” It isn’t completely clear what exactly caused the crack in the pipeline, but it’s clear that the pipeline failure resulted in, as mayor Kim Carr stated, “one of the most devastating situations that our community has dealt with in decades.”
According to the Associated Press, an alarm went off at 2:30 a.m. on Saturday in a pipeline control room indicating a pipeline failure. Despite this alarm, as well as many people at the beach reporting an oily sheen on the surface of the water the night before, “the company waited more than three hours to shut down the pipeline, at 6:01 a.m., according to preliminary findings of an investigation into the spill,” the Associated Press revealed. The reasoning behind this delay in shutting down the pipeline is unclear, but it could potentially have worsened the effects the oil spill had on the wildlife in the area.
Huntington Beach released an official statement following the oil spill which reported an official closing of the beach until further notice, reading: “The City of Huntington Beach is aware of an oil slick near our coast that is actively being managed by the US Coast Guard. As such, we will be closing the ocean from the Santa Ana River jetty to the pier.”
On Sunday, October 3, a larger statement was released providing an update on the areas affected, stating that “Currently, the oil slick plume measures an estimated 5.8 nautical miles long, and runs from the Huntington Beach Pier down into Newport Beach.”
It also mentioned ways in which individuals could help: “The California Department of Fish & Wildlife has also set-up the Oiled Wildlife Care Network hotline, which can be reached at (877) 823-6926, for individuals to call if anyone sees wildlife impacted from the oil.”
At the time, Huntington Beach had been hosting the annual Pacific Airshow which, according to their website pacificairshow.com, “delivers an action-packed lineup of events, from live music festivals on the beach and VIP offerings, to over-the-water aerobatic demonstrations from the world’s best display teams.”
The first two days of the airshow had already taken place, and the third and final day was supposed to be Sunday. The website reported that there were 1.5 million attendees on Saturday, “breaking every event attendance record in the city’s history.”
The cancellation was not only an inconvenience to the people who had come from different places to attend the show, but also for the airshow team who had “worked tirelessly to put on the best airshow in U.S. history for [their] fans and [their] community.”
The oil spill had extreme effects on the wildlife, with dead animals washing up on the shore of the beach. According to Reuters, Mayor Carr believed the oil spill to be an “environmental catastrophe” as well as a “potential ecological disaster.”
Miyoko Sakashita, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s oceans program talked about the various harmful effects that can occur as a result of oil spills. He stated that many sea creatures, such as whales and dolphins die simply from breathing in the fumes of the oil, and birds have trouble flying if oil gets on their feathers.
Additionally, specific logistics provided by the Associated Press from the Oiled Wildlife Care Network revealed that “more than four dozen animals, mostly birds and fish, have been found dead since the spill.
Huntington Beach did as much in their power to help the situation and cease the oil from spreading further into the ocean. Booms (floating oil barriers) were stationed on the water surface to slow the spreading of the oil. Cleanup crews collected as much oil as possible in plastic bags and people raced to save as many affected animals as they could. Additionally, many divers were sent to explore the pipeline in order to determine the cause. Huntington Beach released various statements updating everyone on what was going on and what measures were being taken to bring things back to normal on the beloved beach.
The final update on the Huntington Beach website was given on October 11, reporting the reopening of the beach. The statement confirmed that oil associated toxins were not detected in the water quality testing results and that water quality testing would continue to happen over the next few weeks.
The update also included a statement from mayor Carr, who said, “The health & safety of our residents & visitors is of the utmost importance. We understand the significance our beaches have on tourism, our economy, & our overall livelihood here in Huntington Beach. It is important that our decision to reopen our shoreline and water be based on data and that we continue to monitor the water quality going forward.”