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SoCal Beaches Reopen After Offshore Oil Spill

los angeles
Courtesy USCG Los Angeles

Published Oct 11, 2021 11:10 PM by The Maritime Executive

Just one week after a major oil spill off the coast of Orange County, local and state officials have fully reopened most beaches to the public. Coastal water testing along the shore of popular Huntington Beach found no detectable toxins.

“Currents kind of drove the flow of oil away,” Huntington Beach spokeswoman Jennifer Carey told the OC Register. “There was much less oil than we originally thought. Estimates of the spill have gone down significantly, which is great news.”

An ongoing advisory notice remains in effect, and responders still expect that tarballs and oiled material will wash up periodically. To date, skimmers and cleanup crews have picked up more than 5,500 gallons of oil out of a total of 25,000 to 130,000 gallons spilled. 68 oiled birds have been recovered, including 38 which were deceased. 

The U.S. Coast Guard believes that the spill was likely caused by an anchor from a large vessel. An ROV inspection found that the pipeline was displaced about 100 feet from its charted position and had lost its concrete coating, indicating that it may have been hooked and pulled off station by an anchor. In the bent section, the inspection found a 13-inch linear crack, which may have developed due to stress from the initial anchor strike. The extent of marine growth on the metal pipe - in the area where the concrete used to be - suggests that the initiating incident occurred at least several months in the past, according to lead investigator Capt. Jason Neubauer.

On Monday, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced that his office would be investigating the spill to determine the cause and whether anything could have been done to prevent it. 

“The oil spill off the coast of Huntington Beach is an environmental disaster with far-reaching consequences for our fish and wildlife, for our communities, and for our economy,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta. “My office is committed to devoting the people and the resources necessary to ensure this environmental disaster is fully investigated, and we will follow the facts wherever they lead us.”

Bonta also announced that later this month, his office's attorneys will be in court to attempt to block the use of standard well stimulation treatments - like hydraulic fracturing and acidizing - for oil and gas production off the coast of Southern California.