‘It’s all hands on deck’: 3 things to know about the massive oil spill in Orange County

A major oil spill washes ashore at Huntington State Beach in Huntington Beach Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021.
Containment booms protect the shoreline after a major oil spill from a pipeline leak off Huntington State Beach on Sunday.
(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, Oct. 4. I’m Justin Ray. I hope you’re staying safe and healthy.

By now you have probably heard of the major oil spill off the Orange County coast. The incident, first reported Saturday, caused oil to wash ashore in Huntington Beach with slicks visible in the ocean, prompting officials to close a stretch of sand from the pier to the Newport Beach city line.

While the oil spill started making national headlines Sunday, residents started smelling a “horrible and strong” tar-like odor as early as Friday night. Newport Beach officials have urged people to avoid the area as they address the issue.

“We classify this as a major spill, and it is a high priority to us to mitigate any environmental concerns,” said Jennifer Carey, a Huntington Beach city spokesperson. “It’s all hands on deck.”


Here are the three major things to know about the spill:

How did this happen?

The spill originated from a broken pipeline less than three miles off the coast of Huntington Beach connected to an offshore oil platform known as Elly.

Elly, in federal waters off the Orange County coast, began operating in 1980 and processes crude oil produced from two other platforms. It sits atop a large reservoir of oil called the Beta Field in waters overseen by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Many questions remain unanswered, but we were able to uncover some previous coverage of the platform, including a previous 2,000-gallon spill.

What damage has it caused?

The rupture has poured at least 130,000 gallons of crude into coastal waters and seeped into the Talbert Marsh, officials said. Dead birds and fish have begun to wash up on the shore.

The Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach made plans to triage oiled wildlife affected by the spill in the coming days, a representative of the center said. The magnitude is not yet clear, though there is cause for concern for animals in the area.


“If the birds get into this tar it’s going to stick to their feathers and it’s going to be a problem for them,” said Ben Smith, a biologist and environmental consultant for the county. “It contaminated the water — it’s bad for the wildlife, bad for the water, bad for the people who use the water. It’s really unfortunate.”

How is the spill being addressed?

Workers moved to shut the pipeline down and use pressurized equipment to retrieve as much oil as possible soon after the incident was reported, said Kate Conrad of Beta Offshore, a Southern California oil producer involved in the operation.

Meanwhile, Orange County Rep. Michelle Steel sent a letter to President Biden on Sunday requesting a major disaster declaration for Orange County, which would make additional federal assistance available for state and local agencies and individuals affected by the spill.

“It is imperative that the federal government assist in recovery efforts,” she wrote. “I have serious concerns about the environmental impacts of the spill and applaud the workers who are doing their best to prevent the oil from hitting sensitive wetlands.”

Additional readings:

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.

How Delta upended California’s economic outlook — from ‘sizzling to ho-hum.’ Nine months ago, UCLA forecasters predicted that the economic recovery in California and the nation was going to be tremendous. But the Delta variant of the coronavirus has upended those calculations in California and nationwide. Vaccine resistance and rising deaths in many states have caused consumers to balk at returning to spending money on restaurants, travel and in-person entertainment. “What could have been a couple of years of blockbuster economic growth look instead to become years of good, solid, but not spectacular growth,” an expert said. Los Angeles Times


Did we just have the best Hollywood Bowl season ever? Mark Swed says the entertainment venue managed to deliver astounding concerts despite the challenges presented by the pandemic. “This proved the most satisfying Bowl season in long memory,” Swed writes. I actually went to the venue for the first time ever recently to see a concert by British musician James Blake. It was such an amazing performance, and the L.A. Phil was astounding. Los Angeles Times

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If you’re a fan of this newsletter, you’ll probably love our new daily podcast, “The Times,” hosted by columnist Gustavo Arellano, along with reporters from across our newsroom. Every weekday, it takes you beyond the headlines. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts and follow on Spotify.


Newsom orders COVID vaccines for eligible students, the first state mandate for K-12 schools. On Friday, California became the first state to announce a COVID-19 vaccination requirement for all public and private schoolchildren, a move affecting millions of students and once again placing the state at the forefront of strict pandemic safety measures. The mandate would take effect for grades 7 through 12, starting with the school term following the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s full approval of the vaccine for children ages 12 and older, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced. Students in kindergarten through sixth grade would be phased in after the vaccine has been approved for their age group. Los Angeles Times


The San Jose city attorney’s office has filed a civil lawsuit against two men and others they believe are behind social media accounts promoting illegal sideshows. Back in June, the city voted to make it illegal to encourage sideshows and street racing on social media. Court documents point to @sj_takeovers on Instagram, and allege the man behind the account had already been cited a number of times for crimes related to sideshow activity. KGO-TV

The parents of a 19-year-old UC San Diego student who died by suicide in January have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the university. The lawsuit accuses the UCSD men’s rowing coach of subjecting athletes to pervasive bullying and verbal abuse that it alleges led to the death of Brian Lilly Jr. University spokesperson Matt Nagel on Thursday released a brief statement: “We are very sorry for the Lillys’ loss, but we are unable to comment on pending legal matters and Title IX matters are confidential.” San Diego Union-Tribune

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You’re gonna want to read this vaccine story. Data collected from 18 states between March and August suggest the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine reduces the risk of being hospitalized with COVID-19 by 91% in the first four months after receiving the second dose. Beyond 120 days, however, that vaccine’s efficacy drops to 77%. Overall, 54% of fully vaccinated Americans have been immunized with the Pfizer shot. Meanwhile, Moderna’s vaccine was 93% effective at reducing the short-term risk of COVID-19 hospitalization and remained 92% effective after 120 days. Los Angeles Times

A pharmacist prepares Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccinations for healthcare workers.
Pharmacist Marie Antonette Tambot prepares Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccinations for healthcare workers at Seton Medical Center in Daly City, Calif.
(Associated Press)


The rise of a young Bay Area boxer. I have written about this fab-tastic KQED podcast before, but I wanted to plug another great episode by Rightnowish, hosted by Pendarvis Harshaw. He talks to “Dynamite” Daisy Bamberger, a highly decorated 19-year-old boxer from Hayward. After winning 10 national championships and ranking No. 1 in the country, she wants to take her skills to the next level and compete in the 2024 Olympics. Hear how she went from being teased in elementary school to becoming an accomplished athlete. KQED

The six Latinx ‘geniuses.’ Last week, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced the 25 recipients of the 2021 MacArthur Fellowship. The so-called genius grants are awarded to “individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.” This year, six Latinxs were awarded the fellowship: writer and radio producer Daniel Alarcón; microbiologist Dr. Victor J. Torres; filmmakers Cristina Ibarra and Alex Rivera; painter and sculptor Daniel Lind-Ramos; and historian Monica Muñoz Martinez. Los Angeles Times

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Los Angeles: I recently read something that I can’t stop thinking about. 92. San Diego: There was a Reddit post titled “What’s your secret that could literally ruin your life if it came out?” 85. San Francisco: One answer was about cakes and oh, my, lanta. 71. San Jose: Here is the post (warning: there is some cursing). 86 Fresno: I wonder if other bakers have this same secret! 92 Sacramento: Can you get arrested for culinary plagiarism? 93


Notable birthdays:

Susan Sarandon was born Oct. 4, 1946. In a “Divorced Not Dead” podcast this year, Sarandon was asked what she looks for in a man. She replied: “I don’t care if it’s a man or a woman. I mean, I’m open to all age, all color. And those for me, those things are just details.”

Dakota Johnson was born Oct. 4, 1989. When Ellen DeGeneres announced she was ending her talk show this year, a lot of social media users reupped an awkward exchange she had with the comedian on the program.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

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