Dead birds and fish wash ashore as 13-square-mile oil spill reaches Southern California coast

US - Dead birds and fish wash ashore as 13-square-mile oil spill reaches Southern California coast

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Local officials are warning of a potential ecological disaster after more than 120,000 gallons of oil leaked from an offshore oil rig and began washing up on beaches in Southern California on Saturday.

The U.S. Coast Guard tweeted Saturday afternoon that the slick was approximately three miles off Newport Beach, Calif., and 13 square miles in size; reports that the oil was hitting the shore started coming in that evening.

Katrina Foley, an Orange County supervisor, tweeted that the oil spilled from Platform Elly, operated by Beta Offshore, a Long Beach, Calif., unit of Houston’s Amplify Energy. She said birds and fish had begun to wash ashore, and that oil continued to spill from the rig, despite reports that workers had moved to shut the pipeline down and use pressurized equipment to retrieve as much oil as possible soon after the incident was reported.

“We recognize the gravity of the situation,” California state assembly member Cottie Petrie-Norris told reporters at a news conference on Saturday. “We are and will continue to fight this with all our collective resources to ensure that we avert this from becoming a major environmental disaster.”

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife said it had sent surveillance and cleanup crews to the area, and the Oiled Wildlife Care Network at the University of California at Davis said it had deployed staff to support response efforts in the Newport Beach area. The extent of the spill was still under investigation late Saturday.

Residents were asked to stay out of the water, and not go swimming or surfing, as authorities worked through the night to assess the damage. The slick has so far reached Newport Beach, with Huntington Beach officials closing its ocean from the Santa Ana River Jetty to the pier.

In Huntington Beach, the spill led to the cancellation of a popular air show that drew 1.5 million visitors Saturday to allow the cleanup to begin.

“We’re aware that oil has hit the beach ... and it also appears that oil has infiltrated the Talbert Marsh,” Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr told reporters, referring to a wetland that is home to about 90 bird species.

According to the nonprofit organization that looks after the wetland, it is used by thousands of birds as a rest stop during their long migrations from their nesting grounds in the Arctic to their wintering grounds in South America.

The largest oil spill ever to have occurred in the waters off California, near Santa Barbara in 1969, spilled an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 barrels of crude oil within a 10-day period and killed an estimated 3,500 sea birds, as well as marine animals such as dolphins, elephant seals, and sea lions. It reportedly provided the inspiration for Earth Day. The latest spill is so far estimated at 3,000 barrels.

“At some point we must address these types of spills and how they are wreaking such havoc not only just on our environment, but also on our economics in our communities,” Foley, the Orange County supervisor, told reporters.


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