‘Catastrophic’ California oil spill kills fish, damages wetlands

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An estimated 126,000 gallons, or 3,000 barrels, were spilled in an oil slick spanning nearly 13 square miles of the Pacific Ocean.

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Huntington Beach, Calif. — A major oil spill off the Southern California coast has killed fish, petroleum and contaminated birds trapped in wetlands in what local officials called an environmental catastrophe.

The US Coast Guard, leading a cleanup response involving federal, state and city agencies, on Sunday announced a round-the-clock investigation into how the spill happened.

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Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr told a news conference that an estimated 126,000 gallons, or 3,000 barrels, had spilled into the oil slick covering nearly 13 square miles of the Pacific Ocean.

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He called the spill an “environmental catastrophe” and a “potential ecological disaster”. The beachfront city, about 40 miles (65 km) south of Los Angeles, was bearing the brunt of the spill.

Carr said: “Our wetlands are being degraded and parts of our coastline are now covered with oil.”

The leak was caused by a breach involving the Ely Oil Rig and stretched from the Huntington Beach Pier to Newport Beach, an area popular with surfers and sunbathers.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife ordered the closure of fisheries for coastal areas affected by the spill.

The department said late Sunday that the closure would extend from Huntington Beach to Dana Point for coastal areas, and it would extend to six miles from coastal points for the offshore area.

Carr said the oil rig was operated by Beta Offshore, a California subsidiary of Houston-based Amplify Energy Corporation. Calls to Beta and Amplify remained unanswered.

Carr said in his remarks: “In the days and weeks ahead, we challenge responsible parties to do everything possible to rectify this environmental catastrophe.”

Amplify Energy CEO Martin Wilsher said at a press conference in Long Beach that the pipeline has been shut down and the remaining oil has been pumped out. He said divers were still trying to find out where and why the leak happened.

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U.S. Representative Michelle Steele, a Republican representing part of the affected area, sent a letter to Democratic President Joe Biden requesting a major disaster declaration for Orange County, a federal fund to help with cleanup efforts. will free the money.

Steele later told CNN: “It’s a really serious disaster”.

Coty Petrie-Norris, a Democratic state assembly member who represents some of the areas affected by the spill, said she had “big concerns” about the extent of the damage to the environment, communities and the local economy.

She told CNN that the spill is a “call to action that we need to stop drilling off our precious California coast.”

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Due to the state’s strict environmental regulations, oil production off the coast of California has declined sharply since its peak in the 1990s. Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom said he wants to end oil drilling in the state by 2045.

Offshore drilling was banned in the state in 1969 after the devastating oil spill in Santa Barbara, which dumped 80,000 barrels into the sea. Another spill from Santa Barbara in 2015 sent 2,400 barrels ashore and into the Pacific.

Ocean conservation group Oceana also called for an end to offshore oil and gas drilling.

Oceana’s chief policy officer, Jacqueline Savitz, said in a statement: “This is the oil industry’s latest tragedy. It is time to prevent future oil spills by permanently protecting our coasts from offshore drilling.”

The spill occurred in federal waters. Officials said federal, state and city agencies headed by the US Coast Guard were involved in the response.

On Sunday, Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley said oil had infiltrated a large ecological reserve, the Talbert Marsh, causing “significant damage”.

Beaches were closed for swimming and a local air show was cancelled, although some people were unimpressed by setting up chairs on the beach to enjoy the sun or take a walk on the pier on Sunday.

Carr said officials have deployed 2,050 feet (625 meters) of protective booms, which help stop and slow the oil flow.

The US Coast Guard, working with local and state agencies, flew airplanes and deployed boats to assess the spill and hired contractors to clean it up. The Coast Guard said about 3,150 gallons of oil had been recovered from the water.

Officials said they are investigating the cause of the leak and the type of oil involved.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Additional reporting by Tim Reid and Nicola Groom in Los Angeles; David Brunstrom in Washington and Aakriti Bhalla in Bengaluru; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Christopher Cushing, Lisa Shumaker and Giles Elgood)


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