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SoCal coastal pipeline no longer leaking oil, but cause remains a mystery

At least 127,000 gallons of oil spilled from a pipeline roughly five miles off the coast of Huntington Beach, aka "Surf City USA."

(CN) — An oil spill off the coast of Orange County, California, is no longer actively leaking, but officials are still not sure how much oil was released, where the pipeline was leaking from or what caused the spill.

The spill, which occurred approximately five miles off the coast of Huntington Beach, was the result of a ruptured 17-mile-long oil pipeline owned by Houston-based oil and gas company Amplify Energy. As a result of the spill, beaches spanning Orange County are closed, boat traffic from Newport Beach Harbor has been halted, dead and wounded sea life are washing ashore dirtied with black oil and tendrils of oil slick are drifting south toward the San Diego County line.

Amplify Energy president Martyn Willsher said during a Monday press briefing that the company estimates a maximum of 3,111 barrels — approximately 127,000 gallons — of oil were spilled during the leak. He said company officials became aware of the leak on Saturday morning and added that the company’s dive teams have homed in on a particular area of the pipeline that they believe but have not confirmed could be the source of the spill.

“There is no active leak that we are aware of, especially in that specific area,” Willsher said. He said they expected the source of the oil spill to be determined and reported within 24 hours, confirming that they had not ruled out the “distinct possibility” that a ship’s anchor led to the pipeline damage.

“We had never seen degradation of the pipe from the inside,” Willsher said. The company cleans the crude oil pipeline weekly and conducts inspections every other year, according to Willsher.

 U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Rebecca Ore said at the press briefing that the “vast majority of the oil remains offshore,” but that oil was washing up on beaches. She said that there was not a single large oil slick, and that the status of the spill is ever-changing in response to the winds and tides.

“Yesterday, we flew up and down the coastline here and I would characterize the oil as sort of isolated ribbons or patches of oil,” Ore said. “It does cover several miles and that is constantly changing. The best way to characterize it is an area from Huntington Beach down to just south of Dana Point that extends a couple miles offshore.”

Ore said it was too early to make projections about the trajectory of the cleanup or suggest when beaches might be reopened, but she said the Coast Guard would be dedicating increasing resources to the mitigation efforts. Willsher confirmed that the company is insured and will pay for the cleanup.

Christian Carbo, a patrol lieutenant with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, said during the news conference that the state had issued limits on commercial and recreational fishing along the coastline in response to the spill.

"The closure extends out six miles and a swath of about 20 miles long," Carbo said.

Carbo said the agency had rescued four seabirds so far, including one pelican that had to be “humanely euthanized” due to wing injuries. He added that particular efforts were being take to prevent the encroachment of oil into ecologically sensitive areas, including wetlands.

The Oiled Wildlife Care Network tweeted Monday that they had treated their first bird affected by the oil spill. They said the “95% oiled Sanderling” was “alert and appeared healthy notwithstanding the oiling.”

The Oiled Wildlife Care Network and other agencies working on the spill advise people not to capture oiled wildlife or assist in the clean-up of oil that may wash ashore due to the potential adverse health reactions resulting from physical contact with the oil.

The lack of a confirmed cause of the spill didn’t stop lawyers at Milberg Coleman Bryson Phillips Grossman from filing a federal class action Monday on behalf of a DJ who says he often has gigs on the beachfront. Claims against Amplify include negligence and nuisance, and the plaintiff seeks a court-monitored medical monitoring fund for those who have been made ill by the spill.

The response effort is led by the Southern California Spill Response team, comprised of the Coast Guard, Amplify Energy and the Office of Spill Prevention and Response at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The cities of Long Beach, Huntington Beach and Newport Beach are supporting agencies.

After the news conference from the Southern California Spill Response officials, some Orange County officials spoke of the future effects of the oil spill.

Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer voiced concern about Amplify Energy’s internal investigation efforts and their plans to send their own divers to examine the source of the leak. Spitzer said his office is looking into the incident to determine whether they had jurisdiction over the spill — he said his jurisdiction extends three miles offshore, beyond which point the federal government is in charge.

Congresswoman Michelle Steel, whose district includes many of the coastal communities most affected by the spill, sent a letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom asking him to join her in requesting that President Joe Biden authorize a major disaster declaration for Orange County.

Katrina Foley, who represents much of the affected area on the Orange County Board of Supervisors, warned of the spill’s far-reaching effects in a statement.

“The ramifications will extend further than the visible oil and odor that our residents are dealing with at the moment. The impact to the environment is irreversible,” Foley said. “We must identify the cause of the spill, and for the greater good of our cities, beaches and coastal ecological habitat, we need to understand how to prevent these incidences moving forward.”

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