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Oil Spill Off California Coast Sends 126,000 Gallons Into the Pacific

A pipeline failure off the coast of Orange County, Calif., on Saturday caused at least 126,000 gallons of oil to spill into the Pacific Ocean, creating a 13-square-mile slick that continued to grow on Sunday, officials said.

Dead fish and birds had already begun to wash ashore in some places as cleanup crews raced to try to contain the spill, which created a slick that extended from Huntington Beach to Newport Beach.

The spill prompted officials to close the beaches in Huntington Beach, where the third day of the annual Pacific Airshow was canceled on Sunday, a day after an estimated 1.5 million people had gathered on the oceanfront to watch the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds.

Oil continued to leak into the water on Sunday morning, according to officials, who said they were still assessing the extent of the damage.

It was not immediately clear what caused the oil leak, which officials said was located three miles off the coast of Newport Beach and was connected to an offshore oil platform operated by Beta Offshore.

At a news conference on Saturday night, Mayor Kim Carr of Huntington Beach said that the equivalent of 3,000 barrels of postproduction crude oil had spilled into the ocean since the situation was initially reported around 9 a.m. local time on Saturday. More than 1,000 feet of booms had been deployed to try to contain the slick, she said.

Ms. Carr said that the city was working with state, county and federal partners to mitigate what “could be a potential ecological disaster.”

“Right now, we’re advising people to stay out of the water,” Ms. Carr said.

A spokeswoman for Beta Offshore did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Sunday morning. She told The Los Angeles Times that workers quickly shut the pipeline down and use pressurized equipment to retrieve as much oil as possible on Saturday after the spill was reported.

The oil slick appeared to infiltrate the Talbert Marsh, a 25-acre ecological reserve across from Huntington State Beach that is home to dozens of species of birds, officials said.

“The impact to the environment is irreversible,” Katrina Foley, a supervisor for Orange County, said at the news conference on Saturday night.

Eric McCoy, the marine safety chief for the Huntington Beach Fire Department, said on Saturday that officials used a plane to survey the size and location of the slick.

“Obviously the potential for significant environmental damage still exists,” Chief McCoy said at the news conference, pointing out that the U.S. Coast Guard had classified the slick as a “major spill.”

The Coast Guard did not offer new details on Sunday, but it said in a joint statement with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife on Saturday that the “cause of the spill, volume and type of oil are under investigation.” The agencies advised the public that they did not need volunteers to help with the cleanup, saying that it could hinder the response.

The initial report of the spill came early Saturday morning, the Coast Guard said.

Environmental groups said that the spill underscored the need for the state of California to move away from fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy.

“The hundred-thousand of gallons of oil that spilled into the ocean near Huntington Beach provide a stark and dark reminder that oil is dirty, dangerous, and can make our air and water too toxic for life,” Laura Deehan, the state director of Environment California, said in a statement on Sunday.

The spill was not the first of its kind to imperil California’s coastline. In 2015, the Refugio spill near Santa Barbara, the worst in decades for the state, sent more than 100,000 gallons of crude oil spilling mostly into the ocean after an onshore pipeline ruptured. A $22 million settlement was finalized in October 2020 to restore natural resources damaged by the spill.

And in 2007, a ship that swiped a support on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge sent nearly 60,000 gallons into the water, the worst spill in that area in decades.

A three-million-gallon spill off Santa Barbara in 1969 has been credited with helping to set off the modern-day environmental movement. Environmentalists point out that oil spills can kill thousands of animals, cost tens of millions of dollars to clean up and contaminate beaches for months.

Cottie Petrie-Norris, a state assemblywoman who represents part of Huntington Beach, said on Saturday that the spill was troubling.

“Across all of our partners, we recognize the gravity of this situation,” she said. “We are and will continue to fight this with all of our collective resources.”

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