Huntington Beach, CA

Mayor Warns: Beaches may have to close for “a few months” after catastrophic oil spill

Jano le Roux

No more beach days. No more fun in the sun. Just oil. Officials blocked the area to beachgoers and canceled the Pacific Airshow’s last day after a 126,000-gallon oil spill from an offshore rig caused serious ecological damage in the waters near Huntington Beach.

The spill extends around 5.8 nautical miles between the Huntington Beach Pier and Newport Beach, and the US Coast Guard is in charge of the response. The spill came from a Beta Offshore plant about five miles offshore and was most likely triggered by a pipeline rupture.

Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr said the 3,000-barrel oil spill was reported at 9 a.m. Saturday, prompting a reaction from all levels of government, including the establishment of a unified command to tackle the environmental issue.

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Carr called the scenario a “potential ecologic disaster,” adding that some of the oil had made its way to the beach and was affecting the Talbert Marshlands and the Santa Ana River Trail.

On Sunday, Rep. Michelle Steel, R-Huntington Beach, wrote to President Joe Biden, demanding that Orange County be declared a major disaster.

“The federal government’s assistance in recovery efforts is critical.” Oil on the beach and unpleasant scents have already been reported by constituents who live along the shoreline,” Steel wrote. “Officials are already taking steps to protect marine life. Beaches and shorelines are already littered with dead fish and birds. I’m concerned about the spill’s environmental consequences, and I appreciate the employees who are doing everything they can to keep the oil from reaching critical wetlands.”

To prevent oil from entering the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve and Huntington Beach Wetlands, skimming equipment and booms were deployed. People can call the Oiled Wildlife Care Network hotline at 877–823–6926 if they encounter wildlife affected by the oil, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The public was advised not to approach the animals.

Boaters who have oil damage to their ship are advised not to clean it themselves since they risk spreading the oil, but to contact county officials who can direct them to the correct channels for reimbursement of cleaning costs.

The city shut down ocean access from the Pier to the jetty on the Santa Ana River. The city’s state beaches are also closed. The restrictions could last anywhere from “a few weeks to a few months,” according to Carr.

Because of the potential health risks, health officials advised people not to swim, surf, or exercise near the beach.

The spill also forced the Pacific Airshow, which drew hundreds of thousands of people to the beach on Saturday, to be canceled.

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