Nearly three months after an undersea pipeline spilled thousands of gallons of crude oil into the waters off Southern California, authorities have announced that coastal clean-up operations are now complete.
“Following ongoing cleanup efforts for the Southern California oil spill, affected sections of coastline have been restored to their original condition,” officials said in a Tuesday news release. The unified cleanup was led by the US Coast Guard, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Oil Spill Prevention and Response Office, and Orange and San Diego counties.
Authorities were first alerted to the possibility of an oil spill off Orange County on Friday, October 1. That Saturday, local residents noticed a glow, and by sunrise the next morning a diesel-like odor had blanketed the area as an oil spill approached Huntington Beach. Crashing waves brought dark crude oil to shore, along with dead birds and fish.
Response teams were quickly mobilized, including biologists and environmentalists scrambling to erect barriers between the oil and Talbert Marsh, a 25-acre ecological reserve home to dozens of species. Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in Orange County.
“In a year filled with incredibly challenging issues, this oil spill represents one of the most devastating situations our community has dealt with in decades,” Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr said at the time.
The oil spill sparked a nationwide conversation about fossil fuel dependency and once again urged the government to take more aggressive action against the aging oil platforms that dot the state’s coast.
Orange County Superintendent Katrina Foley, whose district includes Huntington Beach, said Wednesday it’s “great to have the clean-up component behind us,” but there’s still work to be done.
“The first thing we learned is that this aging infrastructure is decaying and not well maintained, and that needs to be addressed immediately,” Foley said. “The second most important lesson is that as long as we are able to transition these ‘dirty’ jobs to ‘clean’ jobs and take care of the workers, community support for shutting down these rigs will be increased.”
Foley said the impact of the spill had spread throughout the coastal community — from local fishing and surfing schools going out of business to damaged properties and canceled events, including the Pacific Airshow scheduled for this weekend.
“I think there was a dramatic understanding by those who might not have been as connected to the environmentalists about the impact of offshore oil drilling,” she said. “It’s affecting the economy, it’s affecting the environment, it’s affecting the coast — it’s affecting our lives in general. I think all these factors are hitting people really hard this time, more than in the past.”
The 25,000-gallon spill was quickly linked to an oil processing platform called Elly, which sits about nine miles offshore in federal waters.
In the days and weeks that followed, Elly’s operator, Amplify Energy Corp., came under increasing scrutiny over a 15-hour delay in notifying federal regulators of the spill.
Coast Guard investigators say a drag anchor may have damaged the 17-mile pipeline that runs from Elly to a Long Beach terminal, though the exact cause of the spill remains unclear.
Earlier this month, a federal grand jury indicted Amplify Energy and two subsidiaries over their alleged role in the oil spill.
Amplify also got involved in the cleanup.
“This response was a true team effort — one that included the commitment and dedication of federal, state and local government agencies along with our response team,” said Dan Steward, vice president of beta operations for Amplify Energy in a statement. “We are grateful for their work and would like to thank all members of Unified Command for their professionalism and cooperation over the past three months.”
The pipeline remains closed, officials said. Representatives from the Pipeline Hazardous Material Safety Administration, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and State Fire Marshal are overseeing the flushing operation to remove residual oil from the pipeline.
Meanwhile, several lawsuits and civil suits are making their way through the court system. According to Foley, the county’s demands for the cleanup alone total more than $1 million.
The oil also affected wildlife. After the spill, veterinary officials with the UC Davis Oiled Wildlife Care Network reported 82 dead birds, three dead sea lions and one dead bottlenose dolphin, among other affected animals.
Debbie McGuire, executive director of the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach, was among the network members who responded.
“I was pretty stressed. I was pretty scared,” she said Wednesday, noting that the group is still on the lookout for potential victims even though the cleanup has been declared complete.
While birds tend to get sick straight away — the oil ruins their impregnation and makes them vulnerable to cold and hypothermia — marine mammals can have chronic problems that show up later, she said.
And although the spill was smaller than officials feared — it was originally estimated at 126,000 gallons — McGuire said it was a disturbing reminder of the precariousness of oil production in California. The group also responded to the 2015 Santa Barbara Refugio oil spill and the 1990 American Trader oil spill.
“Jump forward 31 years and we have another oil spill,” she said, adding, “Everyone should probably take a close look and think about how safe it is to have these rigs.”
Another oil slick was spotted in the area in November and was quickly contained.
Foley said one positive takeaway from the spill is that it has become a “great model for how federal, state and local public agencies can work together, including partnering with local businesses and residents.”
She also said it highlighted the impact of offshore oil drilling, both economically and environmentally.
It’s time to “get on with it [transition] Process in a thoughtful way, but plans for a future for California that doesn’t include offshore oil rigs,” she said.
Christian Corbo, the patrol lieutenant for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife who served as the state’s on-site coordinator, expressed his gratitude to the hundreds of responders who “brought in their experience and expertise early on and committed over time.” Reply.”
“We are grateful to all of the dedicated scientists, wildlife care professionals, technical specialists and law enforcement personnel working to protect our natural resources,” Corbo said in a statement.
The Department of Fish and Wildlife ruled in November that it was safe to eat seafood from the waters, and fishing off Orange County resumed.
US Coast Guard Capt. Rebecca Ore, the federal coordinator of the incident on the ground, echoed Corbo’s view.
“The combined efforts of first responders, public safety professionals, assessment teams and responders have been critical in ensuring our waters, beaches and wildlife have been cleaned to the highest standard,” she said, noting that the response involved more than 1,800 employees were.
Officials said the oiled sand and debris would be disposed of at a special landfill designed for oil-contaminated material.
The response to the oil spill will now enter a “transitional period” during which the unified command will monitor for tarball and oil incidents and analyze any finds to determine their source.
The public is asked to report any significant sightings of oil or oil containing debris to the National Response Center at 1-800-424-8802.
Once the unified command team determines that the transition period is over, the oil spill response will officially be completed.
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-12-29/officials-declare-o-c-oil-spill-cleanup-complete Officials declare the OC’s cleanup of the oil spill complete