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Damage from 126K-gallon oil spill in Southern California likely unknown for weeks

By Jonna Lorenz
1/5
Damage from 126K-gallon oil spill in Southern California likely unknown for weeks
Cleanup workers attempt to contain oil that seeped into Talbert Marsh, home to around 90 bird species, after a 126,000-gallon oil spill from an offshore oil platform in Huntington Beach, Calif. Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

Oct. 4 (UPI) -- Beaches and harbors are closed as cleanup continues after an oil spill off the coast of Southern California, but the full damages might not be known for weeks.

Houston-based Amplify Energy notified the Coast Guard of the spill Saturday morning after employees noticed an oily sheen in the water. The 126,000-gallon spill occurred about 5 miles off Huntington Beach in Orange County.

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The oil slick is drifting south and stretches from Huntington Beach to Laguna Beach, U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Rebecca Ore said Monday.

"We've more than doubled the level of effort just since yesterday, and those numbers will go up," Ore said during a news conference held by the Coast Guard, California Department of Fish and Wildlife's Office of Spill Prevention and Response and Amplify Energy.

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The oil slick has been estimated to span anywhere from 13 to 20 square miles. Ore described the oil as isolated ribbons or pools of oil rather than one large area. Huntington Beach and Newport Beach areas have been the most heavily impacted.

The state issued fishing limitations, prohibiting the taking of fish off the Coast of Huntington Beach about 6 miles out along a 20-mile stretch.

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California Department of Fish and Wildlife incident commander Christian Corbo said the department will patrol the area informing recreational and commercial fishermen of the closures.

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Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer's office is working alongside federal investigators on the incident. Spitzer said he is alarmed that the pipeline company is using its own divers to investigate the leak.

A cause of the leak hasn't been identified. Amplify Energy President and CEO Martyn Willsher said there is a "distinct possibility" that a ship's anchor caused the damage.

Willsher said remotely controlled underwater vehicles are being used to examine the pipeline and narrow in on the source of the leak.

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Shares of Amplify Energy Corp. plunged by nearly half their value, hitting a record one-day selloff and ending a streak that had pushed the stock to its highest price since Feb. 13, 2020, MarketWatch reported.

The company shut down production and pipeline operations in the area, and the 17-mile pipeline was suctioned at both ends to prevent more oil from being released, CNN reported.

The pipeline is connected to an offshore platform called Elly. Divers are inspecting the pipeline searching for the exact cause of the leak, which is still unknown.

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The 126,000-gallon spill amounts to about 20% of an Olympic-sized pool and is much smaller than the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill that released 134 million gallons in the Gulf of Mexico and the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska that totaled 11 million gallons.

In California, 4.2 million gallons of crude oil spilled near Santa Barbara in 1969 and 417,000 gallons spilled at Huntington Beach in 1990.

Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley told CNN that damage to protected wetlands in the area are still being assessed and could take a couple of weeks.

The oil slick covered 13 square miles and continued to grow Sunday, as dead fish and birds washed ashore in some places and wildlife rescuers raced to save oil birds, the New York Times reported.

About 3,150 gallons of oil were recovered overnight. The cleanup operation involved 14 boats.

The Oiled Wildlife Care Network has received 300 calls to its hotline and observed 20 oiled birds. The first live oiled birds to be recovered included a brown pelican, an American coot and a sanderling.

The city of Huntington Beach urged residents not to try to rescue oiled wildlife themselves but to call the hotline. The Orange County Health Care Agency urged people who may have come in contact with contaminated materials to seek medical attention.

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