Huntington Beach, Calif. Crude was no longer leaking from the Southern California pipeline believed to be the source of a massive oil spill that closed miles of popular beaches on Sunday, according to the company’s head of the facility is the owner of.
Divers were still trying to determine where and why the leak occurred, but an undersea line from Huntington Beach stopped the flow of oil late Saturday, Amplify Energy CEO Martin Wilser said.
At least 126,000 gallons (572,807 liters) of crude oil spilled into Orange County waters late Friday or early Saturday, when sailors reported flashes in the water, officials said.
“I don’t expect much of it. That’s the capacity of the entire pipeline,” Wilser said at a news conference on Sunday. He said the pipeline had been pulled out and dozens of nearby oil platforms operated by Amplif were shut down.
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It was one of the largest oil spills in recent Southern California history in the area known as Huntington Beach, Surf City USA. Crews scramble to contain crude oil before it spills further into protected wetlands.
Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr said the city’s famous beaches could remain closed for weeks or even months.
“This oil spill is one of the most devastating situations our community has dealt with in decades,” Carr said.
Officials said the oil produced a mile-wide glow in the sea and washed ashore in sticky, black globules with dead birds and fish. Crews, led by the US Coast Guard, deployed skimmers and floating barriers known as booms to try to prevent further infiltration into the wetlands and the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve.
Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley said a petroleum stench spread throughout the area.
“You get the taste in your mouth from the vapor in the air,” she said.
The closure of Huntington Beach, about 6 miles (9.66 km) south of the Santa Ana River Wharf during the summer season, would have drawn large crowds for volleyball, swimming and surfing. Yellow caution tape was tied between the lifeguard towers to keep people away.
Officials canceled the final day of the annual Pacific Air Show, which normally draws thousands of spectators to Huntington Beach, a city of about 199,000 residents about 30 miles (48 kilometers) south of downtown Los Angeles. The show featured flyovers by the US Navy Blue Angels and US Air Force Thunderbirds.
Foley said on Twitter that the oil slick originated from a broken pipeline that connected an offshore oil platform called Ely. Another platform, located 8.5 miles (about 14 kilometers) from Elly Long Beach, is connected by a walkway to Elly, according to the Federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.
Foley said Newport Beach Mayor Brad Avery told him he encountered an oil spill while traveling from Santa Catalina Island back to the mainland. “He saw dolphins swimming through the oil,” Foley tweeted.
Huntington Beach resident David Rapchun said he is concerned about the spill’s impact on the beaches where he grew up as well as the local economy.
“For the amount of oil these things produce I don’t think it’s worth the risk,” Rapchun said. “I’m sure they have long leashes but these things can change for the sake of pushing.”
He questioned whether drilling for oil along some of Southern California’s prettiest beaches was a wise idea, noting that the loss of the final day of the air show could jolt the local economy.
“We need oil, but there’s always one question: do we need it there?” She wondered.
The spill comes three decades after a massive oil spill in the same part of the Orange County coast. On February 7, 1990, the oil tanker American Trader passed over its anchorage at Huntington Beach, spilling about 417,000 gallons (1.6 million liters) of crude oil. Fish and about 3,400 birds were killed.
In 2015, a broken pipeline north of Santa Barbara sent 143,000 gallons (541,313 liters) of crude oil to Refugio State Beach.
At a news conference Saturday night, Orange County officials expressed concern about the environmental impacts of the spill and hoped that crews could stop the oil before it flows into the sensitive wetlands.
“We are working with our federal, state and county partners to help reduce the impact of a potential ecological disaster,” said Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr.
The area is home to threatened and endangered species – including a rough shorebird called the snowy plover, the California least tern and humpback whale – a fishing industry and migratory birds on the Pacific Flyway.
“The coastal areas of southern California are really rich for wildlife, a major biodiversity hot spot,” said Miyoko Sakashita, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s oceans program.
Environmentalists said the effects of the oil spill are widespread. Sakashita said birds that have oil on their feathers can’t fly, can’t clean themselves, and can’t monitor their temperature. Whales, dolphins and other sea creatures can have trouble breathing or die after swimming through oil or breathing in toxic fumes, he said.
“Oil spills show how dirty and dangerous oil drilling is and oil gets into the water. It’s impossible to clean up so it washes up on our beaches and people come in contact with it and wildlife comes into contact with it. Come on,” she said. “It has long lasting effects on the breeding and reproduction of animals. It is really sad to see this widespread specimen being oiled.”
Associated Press reporters Felicia Fonseca in Phoenix and Julie Walker in New York contributed.
This story has been updated to change the metric conversion to 572,807 liters in the second paragraph, not 98,420 liters.