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Pipeline Still Leaking Oil Into Sea

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A corroded offshore pipeline seeped oil into the ocean for a fourth day Wednesday, fouling the feathers of six birds. Tar balls also washed ashore at Newport Beach as cleanup efforts to contain the 210-gallon spill continued at sea.

“It’s a very small leak. [But] it’s chronic,” said Mark Stephens, a chief petty officer with the U.S. Coast Guard’s Long Beach station.

The spill occurred near a three-platform complex owned by Aera Energy LLC about 10 miles off Huntington Beach. The inactive pipeline, which connects platform Eureka with platforms Elly and Ellen, was being cleaned when residual oil seeped from seven known leaks.

The pipeline was shut down after a June leak of about 420 gallons that sent gooey black tar balls onshore at the pristine Crystal Cove State Park. Tar balls were also found at three other beaches, but tests did not conclusively link them to the pipeline. That was the last time tar balls washed ashore at Orange County beaches, Stephens said.

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The tar balls that washed up on Newport Beach on Wednesday were about 3 millimeters wide and will not require any cleanup, said Lt. Steve Edinger with the state Department of Fish and Game’s Long Beach office. Laboratory tests will determine if they came from the leak.

Six western gulls have come into contact with the oil, officials said Wednesday. Two birds at Newport Beach were healthy enough to escape capture. The remaining four were seen about 9 miles offshore and will likely die, said Edinger, who is with the department’s office of spill prevention and response.

Oil affects the birds’ ability to fly, stay warm, eat food and drink water, said Tom Naploi, an environmental specialist with the Department of Fish and Game. It can also burn their skin, eyes and respiratory system.

Onshore wildlife has not been affected. Oil slicks have drifted toward Orange County beaches, at one point coming less than four miles from shore. On Wednesday, the closest the oil came was about six miles off Huntington Beach, Stephens said. Fish and Game officials are monitoring the shoreline.

Aera had 11 containment and recovery boats in the leak area Wednesday, said Susan Hersberger, spokesperson for the Bakersfield oil and natural gas company. It also continued to flush the pipeline with water, hoping to stop the leaks.

Environmentalists concede that the spill is small, but are incredulous that federal officials who approved Aera’s pipeline cleaning plans knew it was going to happen.

“The paradigm of ‘that’s an acceptable loss’ is not acceptable,” said Christopher J. Evans, executive director of the Surfriders Foundation in San Clemente. “It would not be acceptable if I put [210] gallons of oil down my storm drain. It should not be acceptable for a business to do it.”

Such a spill is also a reminder of the dangers associated with offshore drilling, said Gordon Labedz of the Sierra Club’s Coastal Protection Committee.

“It’s a wake-up call,” he said. “Any time we have a spill of any [size], it reminds us of the danger of human industrial activity in our coastal waters.”


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