Huntington Beach is known to many Californians as “Surf City,” and for good reason. Just southeast of Los Angeles, the small city boasts a year-round swell and a culture deeply rooted in the sport for decades.
However, recently Huntington Beach has been making headlines for something a bit more serious. On the morning of October 2nd, an oil pipeline off the coastline ruptured, releasing an estimated 144,000 gallons of crude oil into the Pacific Ocean – though some reports maintain that it was no more than 25,000 gallons. The pipeline runs from the Port of Long Beach to a processing and production facility in Huntington Beach where most of the damage was suffered.
The result was 13 square miles of toxic oil slick which has since spread to the outer wetlands and is now reportedly making its way to beaches in Northern San Diego. Though the spill was officially reported on October 2nd, the locals first noticed the potent smell of gasoline the day prior.
Coast Guard officials revealed that the leak occurred in a pipeline belonging to the Houston-based Amplify Energy which transports crude from offshore platforms to the coast. To this day, the cause of the spill has not yet been determined but an investigation is underway. A theory is that the pipeline was likely damaged by a ship’s anchor as much as up to a year before, and over time it finally gained enough pressure and burst.
Huntington Beach and the neighboring Newport Beach shut down to the public until Monday, October 11th, but the real repercussions manifested in the ecosystems affected. Marshes and wetlands on the coast were severely impacted by the oil spill and experts are certain the consequences will be felt for years to come.
Thousands upon thousands of wildlife live in the areas now covered in oil, and environmentalists are rushing to find and treat any animals that have been submerged in the toxic slick. The health risks include poisoning, damage to heart and respiration rates, neurological damage, and more in the animals affected. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, oil has been known to ruin the ability to self-insulate for mammals with fur such as sea otters, as well as harm the water repellency of bird’s feathers which makes them more vulnerable to the harsher elements.
Oil slicks also kill marine algae called phytoplankton, which will affect the consumers who depend on the algae as a source of food, and over time will disturb entire food chains. The wetlands impacted are home to dozens of endangered species already and this oil spill has the potential to further endanger them long-term.
These upsetting environmental consequences are seen to many as proof that California should stop drilling off its coast because the ecological risks it poses are too great. The rates for drilling in the state have already been in a steep decline since the nineties and the governor said in April of this year that he intends to phase out state oil extraction no later than 2021. However, for now, drilling platforms are present all along the coast. In total, there are eleven active offshore lines located in federal waters off of California, and all of them have been exposed to decades of age and natural elements which may have compromised their structural integrity and therefore increased the possibility of an incident like what occurred on the 2nd.
Many are hopeful that the events of the last few weeks may increase the urgency for eradicating the production and processing of oil in California much sooner so that coastal wildlife all over the state can be protected.