Oil spill hits coastal O.C., officials seeks federal declaration of ‘major disaster’

Crude oil collects on the ocean side of a sand berm created Oct. 3 to prevent intrusion into the Santa Ana River following an oil spill off Huntington Beach. Photo by Breeana Greenberg/Firebrand Media

Authorities are responding to a 5.8-square-mile oil spill reported off the coast of Newport Beach first reported Saturday night.

The U.S. Coast Guard and Huntington Beach Police Department have dispatched aircraft to access the situation, according to a press release issued by the Long Beach-based Unified Command. Public access to the ocean was closed from the Huntington Beach Pier to the Santa Ana River Jetty on Sunday.

“As of this morning, the Coast Guard is still indicating that Laguna Beach is not anticipated to be impacted from the Huntington Beach oil spill,” Laguna Beach public works director Mark McAvoy wrote in an email Sunday. “The light southerly winds are helping keep the incident to the north.”

Laguna Beach has deployed a drone to surveil the ocean for patches of oil coming ashore, McAvoy wrote.

Supervisor Katrina Foley joined other representatives for an aerial tour and update by the U.S. Coast Guard where the oil appeared to move south toward Laguna Beach.

If Laguna Beach is impacted by the oil spill, all beaches will be immediately closed to protect health and safety and to allow contractors to begin oil cleanup, Laguna Beach marine safety chief Kevin Snow said in a press release. The public is encouraged to pay close attention to any warning signs posted at city beaches for their safety.

The oil slick is believed to have leaked from a pipeline off of Huntington Beach, discharging 126,000 gallons into the coastal waters, the Los Angeles Times reports. Federal and state officials had initially reported the spill spanning about 13 square miles late Saturday.

The unified command consists of Beta Offshore, the U.S. Coast Guard, California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response. Supporting agencies are the cities of Long Beach, Newport Beach, and Huntington Beach, and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

A Newport Beach police animal control vehicle was parked at the mouth of the Santa Ana River on Oct. 3 following an oil spill. Photo by Breeana Greenberg/Firebrand Media

State officials are monitoring the coastline for oiled wildlife. If anyone encounters oiled wildlife they should not approach. Call the Oiled Wildlife Care Network at 1-877-823-6926.

“Our team has been monitoring the situation very closely since it was first reported,” Pacific Marine Mammal Center CEO Peter Chang said Saturday night. “We prepare for times like this by having staff that are trained members of the overarching Oiled Wildlife Care Network. If and when affected animals are reported, the enhanced protocols required for these special cases are activated.”

Members of the public are asked to avoid any oiled area while spill response contractors work to clean up oil.

“Volunteers are not needed and could hinder response efforts,” incident commanders said in a statement. “We request that members of the public stay away from the area.”

The cause of the spill, volume, and type of oil are under investigation. Orange County crews dammed the Santa Ana River’s outlet to the Ocean with sand on Sunday to prevent oil from intruding upstream.

In light of the spill, Huntington Beach has canceled the final day of the Pacific Air Show.

Rep. Michelle Steel (R-Seal Beach) asked the Biden administration Sunday to declare a major disaster in Orange County, requesting fact action in approving public and individual assistance for impacted cities and counties.

“Dead fish and birds have already been reported on beaches and shorelines,” Steel wrote in a letter. “I have serious concerns about the environmental impacts of the spill and applauded the workers who are doing their best to prevent the oil from hitting sensitive wetlands.”

Breeana Greenberg contributed reporting to this story.

A crude oil film rests on the high tide line near the Santa Ana River outlet in Newport Beach on Oct. 3 following an oil spill. Photo by Breeana Greenberg/Firebrand Media
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