Tuesday, October 19

Huntington Beach mayor calls California oil spill’environmental catastrophe’


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HUNTINGTON BEACH — A large oil spill off the southern California coast was described as an “environmental catastrophe” by the mayor of Huntington Beach on Sunday, as the breach of an oil rig pipeline left dead fish and birds strewn on the sand and offshore wetlands clogged with oil.

An estimated 126,000 gallons, or 3,000 barrels, had spread into an oil slick covering about 13 square miles of the Pacific Ocean since it was first reported on Saturday morning, said Kim Carr, the mayor of Huntington Beach, at a press conference. The beachside city, about 40 miles south of Los Angeles, was bearing the brunt of the spill.

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Carr, who called the spill a “potential ecological disaster,” added: “Our wetlands are being degraded and portions of our coastline are now covered in oil.”

The spill was caused by a breach connected to the Elly oil rig and stretched from the Huntington Beach Pier down to Newport Beach, a stretch of coast popular with surfers and sunbathers.

Carr said the oil rig was operated by Beta Offshore, a California subsidiary of Houston-based Amplify Energy Corporation. Calls to Beta and Amplify went unanswered.

Carr, in her remarks, added: “In the coming days and weeks we challenge the responsible parties to do everything possible to rectify this environmental catastrophe.”

Amplify Energy CEO Martyn Willsher said at a press conference in Long Beach that the pipeline had now been shut off and remaining oil suctioned out. He said divers were still trying to determine where and why the spill occurred.

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US Representative Michelle Steel, a Republican representing part of the affected area, sent a letter to Democratic President Joe Biden requesting a major disaster declaration for Orange County, which would free up federal funds to help with the clean-up efforts.

Cottie Petrie-Norris, a Democratic state assembly member representing some areas affected by the spill, said she had “huge concerns” about the extent of the damage to the environment, communities and local economy.

She told CNN the spill was a “call to action that we need to stop drilling off our precious California coast.”

Oil production off California’s coast has declined sharply since its peak in the 1990s, in part due to the state’s strict environmental rules. Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom said he wants to end oil drilling in the state by 2045.

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Offshore drilling was restricted in the state after a devastating 1969 oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara that dumped 80,000 barrels into the ocean. More recently another spill off Santa Barbara in 2015 sent as much as 2,400 barrels onto the shore and into the Pacific.

Oceana, an ocean conservation group, also called for an end to offshore oil and gas drilling.

Jacqueline Savitz, Oceana’s chief policy officer, said in a statement: “This is just the latest tragedy of the oil industry. It’s well past time to prevent future oil spills by permanently protecting our coasts from offshore drilling.”

The spill occurred in federal waters. In a statement, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), a division of the Interior Department, said it was supporting response efforts headed by the US Coast Guard.

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The bureau said its role was to “assist in identifying the location and source of any spills and provide technical assistance in stopping the spillage.”

Also involved in the response was the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, Petrie-Norris said. Newsom’s office, in a statement, said officials there were “working closely” with the Coast Guard and others to monitor the spill.

On Sunday, the Orange County supervisor Katrina Foley said the oil had infiltrated the Talbert Marsh, a large ecological reserve, causing “significant damage.”

Beaches were closed to swimming and a local air show was canceled, although some people were undeterred from setting up chairs on the beach to enjoy a sunny Sunday or strolling along the pier.

Carr said officials had deployed 2,050 feet of protective booms, which help contain and slow the oil flows.

The US Coast Guard, working with local and state agencies, flew airplanes to assess the spill and had hired contractors to clean it up.

Officials said they were investigating the cause of the spill and the type of oil involved. (Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Additional reporting by Tim Reid and Nichola Groom in Los Angeles; David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Christopher Cushing )

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