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SoCal oil spill killing wildlife, may close beaches for months

A massive crude oil spill off the coast of southern California — believed to be at least 126,000 gallons — has reached the shores of Huntington Beach, damaging local wildlife and possibly closing miles of beaches for months at the popular surf destination.

The pipeline believed to be the source of the spill has been shut down, according to the head of the company who operates it, while divers on scene continue to search for the exact cause of the spill, believed to be one of the largest in recent Southern California history.

The origin of the leak was a break of the rig Elly, just about 5 miles off of the coast of Huntington Beach, according to officials.

“I don’t expect it to be more. That’s the capacity of the entire pipeline,” Amplify Energy CEO Martyn Willsher said at a Sunday news conference. He said dozens of nearby Amplify platforms had also been shut down. 

Crews of skimmers led by the United States Coast Guard worked to establish floating barriers known as booms to stop the miles-wide sheen, first observed by boaters on Saturday, from entering wetlands and the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, according to officials.

Oil washed up on Huntington Beach after a large oil spill off the coast of Southern California on October 3, 2021.AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu

Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr said “Surf City USA’s” six miles of famous beaches could remain closed for weeks or even months as the city cleans up the sticky, tar-like globs from the sand.

“This oil spill constitutes one of the most devastating situations that our community has dealt with in decades,” Carr said.

The spill also forced the cancelation of the final day of the annual Pacific Air Show that typically attracts thousands to Huntington Beach, a city of about 199,000 residents about 30 miles south of downtown Los Angeles.

A cleanup crew working on the oil spill at Huntington Beach.Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

Swaths of dead wildlife, mostly birds and fish, have washed ashore with the crude oil. Environmentalists believe it will only get worse as it pushes inland, polluting fragile wetland environments.

“We already have reports of dolphins being seen swimming through the oil slick. They can’t get away from it quickly. And now it has reached land,” Heal the Bay CEO Dr. Shelley Luce told KTLA. “This is a toxic spill. And many, many animals are going to die. And many more than we can count, because they will occur at sea.”

“We’ve been working with our federal, state and county partners to mitigate the impact that could be a potential ecological disaster,” Mayor Carr said Saturday.

A sign warning people not to swim in the water at Huntington Beach amid the oil spill.Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

A bird on a barrier meant to keep contain the oil that is dangerous to wildlife.Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

Many endangered and threatened species live in the area — including a plump shorebird called the snowy plover, the California least tern and humpback whales, as well as a fishing industry and migratory birds on the Pacific Flyway.

Miyoko Sakashita, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s oceans program, told AP that oil spills like this can have long-term impacts on wildlife.

“The oil spill just shows how dirty and dangerous oil drilling is and oil that gets into the water. It’s impossible to clean it up so it ends up washing up on our beaches and people come into contact with it and wildlife comes in contact with it,” she said. “It has long-lasting effects on the breeding and reproduction of animals. It’s really sad to see this broad swatch oiled.”

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