Orange County sheriff’s officials Thursday offered more details on the timeline of the response to the oil spill in Huntington Beach that corroborated much of what officials have already revealed.
Orange County Sheriff’s Department Harbor Patrol deputies on duty for the Huntington Beach Airshow on Oct. 1 began hearing chatter from other watercraft in the ocean about 5:30 p.m. that they could smell a possible fuel spill. That prompted sheriff’s deputies to seek the source of the odor, but they couldn’t find a fuel spill, said Carrie Braun, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s department.
About 6:15 p.m., dispatchers for the harbor patrol overheard a cargo ship crew report a possible fuel spill in federal waters near the oil rig, Braun said. By that time, it was dark and more difficult to find an oil spill and deputies did not respond because it was not within their jurisdiction, Braun said.
About 8 p.m., the U.S. Coast Guard contacted harbor patrol deputies in Newport Beach to help respond to reports of an oil spill, which Coast Guard officials have previously released.
Because it was too dark to try to find an oil slick, officials decided to set out from Huntington Harbor on Saturday morning to look for a spill, Braun said.
A Coast Guard hazardous materials investigator was on board with sheriff’s deputies on a patrol boat when it set out to find a source of oil about 7:45 a.m. Oct. 2. They discovered evidence of a spill about 100 yards in diameter about two miles off Pacific Coast Highway in Huntington Beach by 9 a.m., Braun said.
It was not clear then what was the source of the oil, Braun said. While collecting samples of the oil, additional reports from mariners deeper out to sea reported seeing a larger plume of oil about 5 miles offshore, Braun said.
By 10:30 a.m., the Coast Guard had taken over the investigation and all notifications.
Officials have said reports of the odor of oil is not uncommon and are usually because of fuel spills from boats.
Coast Guard officials believe the pipeline may have been damaged several months to a year ago, but it was unclear when it cracked and started oozing oil into the water. They have theorized a ship’s anchor may have hooked it, bending it 105 feet out of place, and then it could have been struck multiple times since then by other anchors.
Officials were also considering whether a Jan. 24-25 winter storm may have contributed to the positioning of ships’ anchors in the area.
According to an internal memo from sheriff’s officials on Oct. 3, dispatchers “received multiple phone calls from citizens living around Huntington and Newport Harbors” that they could smell the “pungent odor of petroleum in the air emitting from an unknown source” Friday evening.
“The Harbor Patrol and multiple landside agencies could not locate a source of the smell,” according to the memo.
A Coast Guard official called workers at the oil rig just before 9:30 a.m. Oct. 2 saying “crude oil” was “discovered near the platform, and he informed us he would initiate safety protocols immediately and then call us with the results,” according to the memo.