Beaches and other recreational areas near the massive oil spill off the Orange County coast remained under soft closure orders Sunday as teams equipped with protective gear continued inspecting and cleaning beaches in Orange and San Diego counties.
The soft closures for Huntington Beach, Huntington Beach State Park, Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, Laguna Royale Beach, Bolsa Chica State Park, Aliso Beach, West Street Beach, Thousand Steps Beach, Table Rock Beach and Crystal Cove State Beach mean the beaches were open, but the water and waterline were closed.
Salt Creek Beach, Strands Beach and Baby Beach in Dana Point were also open with water advisory postings.
Officials also continued to warn the public not to handle any tar balls they may encounter on the sand. Oil contains hazardous chemicals, and beachgoers who encounter tar balls were encouraged to email firstname.lastname@example.org. If skin contact occurs, they are advised to wash the area with soap and water or baby oil and avoid using solvents, gasoline, kerosene, diesel fuel, or similar products on the skin. Officials say these products, when applied to skin, present a greater health hazard than the tar ball itself.
According to data provided Sunday afternoon by the Unified Command handling the cleanup effort:
— More than 1,600 people are conducting response operations.
— To date, 5,544 total gallons of crude oil have been recovered by vessel.
— 13.6 barrels of tar balls were recovered Saturday.
— Approximately 250,000 lbs. of oily debris has been recovered from shorelines.
— Two overflights were scheduled for Sunday.
— 11,400 feet of containment boom have been strategically deployed.
The Unified Command is headed by the U.S. Coast Guard and also includes officials from Orange County, San Diego County, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and Amplify Energy Corp. — owner of the damaged pipeline that leaked the oil.
Contracted cleanup teams were cleaning locations from Seal Beach down to San Onofre Beach, while officials were conducting water and soil sampling Sunday along San Onofre Beach.
Meanwhile, the Oiled Wildlife Care Network reported that its responders had recovered 58 species impacted by the spill as of Sunday, 50 birds and eight fish. Twenty-six of the birds were recovered alive, but all eight of the fish were dead.
The organization was doing extensive recovery from Long Beach Harbor down to Oceanside, field stabilization at the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach, and primary care at the Los Angeles Oiled Bird Care and Education Center — home to International Bird Rescue.
“Absolutely amazing, and makes me so proud of all we have collectively developed to respond quickly and in a coordinated fashion anywhere oil may be oiled!” OWCN director Michael Ziccardi said.
Officials said no oiled wildlife has been located in San Diego County. For the latest wildlife information, visit owcn.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/pipeline-p00547-incident.
The leak was reported on the morning of Oct. 2 a few miles off the Huntington Beach coast, although some boaters reported smelling something in the water Friday.
Authorities initially estimated that as much as 144,000 gallons of oil may have leaked from the damaged pipeline, but officials said Thursday the actual amount is likely much lower, although there is still no firm number. At a news conference Thursday afternoon, USCG Capt. Rebecca Ore estimated that roughly 588 barrels of oil had spilled, which would equate to about 24,700 gallons. That’s being considered a minimum amount leaked, but officials were unsure of a possible maximum number.
Crews responded to the leak last Saturday morning, and beaches were quickly closed as authorities realized the size and scope of the oil slick.
Amplify CEO Martyn Willsher insisted the company was unaware of any release of oil into the ocean until about 8 a.m. Saturday, adding that the firm responded and reported the incident immediately.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s Office of Pipeline Safety issued a corrective action order Tuesday, saying workers in the company’s control room “received a low-pressure alarm on the San Pedro Bay Pipeline, indicating a possible failure at about 2:30 a.m. Saturday,” but the pipeline carrying crude oil was not shut down until about 6 a.m. Saturday.
Asked repeatedly about that timeline during a Wednesday media briefing in Huntington Beach, Willsher only said the company was cooperating fully with federal and local investigators
“We are working with them, giving them all the transparency and information that we have,” Willsher said.
As for whether there was an alarm that alerted crews to a pressure drop, he said. “We are conducting a full investigation of that … to see if there was anything that should have been noticed.”
Willsher said his company was also unaware of any reports of a sighting of oil in the water as early as 6 p.m. Friday.
Meanwhile, the Coast Guard’s lead investigator said Friday the ruptured underwater pipeline might have been damaged several months to a year ago, adding that it’s unclear when the crack occurred or when oil began seeping into the water.
The revelation marks a major change in the investigation into the cause of the leak.
Capt. Jason Neubauer told reporters Friday that underwater video of the damaged pipeline shows “marine growth” around the 13-inch crack in the pipeline that was left exposed when its concrete casing was ripped away, likely by the strike of a ship’s anchor that hooked the line and dragged it 105 feet out of place.
Investigators were analyzing the maturity of the vegetation to give them a clue as to when the pipeline was initially struck and lost its protective concrete casing.
The presence of the marine vegetation on the exposed pipe “has refocused the … timeframe of our investigation to at least several months to a year ago,” Neubauer said.
He said a routine inspection of the pipeline conducted by Amplify Energy in October of last year showed no damage. Investigators were also looking into the possibility that a winter storm Jan. 24-25 may have contributed to the positioning of ships’ anchors in the area.
Also unclear is exactly when the crack in the pipeline occurred. Neubauer said the pipe may not have ruptured when it was originally pulled out of place and stripped of its concrete casing. Or a small crack may have occurred that gradually got bigger over time, leading to the 13-inch fissure now present in the pipe.
Neubauer also said the pipeline may have been struck multiple times over the past year, and investigators were also examining whether recent earthquakes may have contributed to the damage.
Divers contracted to investigate the source of the leak confirmed that a 4,000-foot section of the 17.7-mile pipeline was moved out of place by as much as 105 feet, and a 13-inch “split” in the line was detected in the displaced section 4 1/2 miles off shore.
Willsher said the pipeline is a 16-inch steel pipe covered in concrete, indicating it would take a great deal of force to move and rupture it. He said the pipeline was “pulled like a bow string,” lending credence to the possibility of a ship’s anchor catching and dragging the line.
The National Transportation Safety Board will also conduct an investigation that will be coordinated with the Coast Guard to avoid redundancies, said Andrew Ehlers, the chief investigator for the probe.
The spill occurred in federal waters at the Elly oil-rig platform, built to process crude oil from two other platforms, which draw from a large reservoir called Beta Field. Elly is one of three platforms operated by Beta Operating Co., which is owned by Amplify Energy and also operates Ellen and Eureka nearby. Elly processes oil production from Ellen and Eureka and is fed by some 70 oil wells. The processing platform separates oil from water.
Elly is one of 23 oil and gas platforms installed in federal waters off the Southern California coast, according to the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Besides Elly, a processing facility, there are 20 others that produce oil and gas, and two are being decommissioned.
Rep. Mike Levin, D-Dana Point, and Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, on Friday led a letter signed by 77 other congressional representatives urging House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer to make sure the Build Back Better Act continues to retain a ban on any new federal oil and gas leasing off the Pacific and Atlantic coasts and in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico.
Levin is also behind the American Coasts and Oceans Protection Act that would bar any new leasing for oil drilling along the Southern California Coast from San Diego to San Luis Obispo County.
Reps. Linda Sanchez, D-Norwalk, and Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, also signed on to the letter.
Community members impacted by the spill who need to file a claim can call 1-866-985-8366. Owners of vessels that have been impacted by the spill are urged not to clean their own boats, and not to use soaps or dispersants.
Updates on fishery closures can be found at socalspillresponse.com/fisheries-closure/.