Oil sheen in waters near massive Huntington Beach spill sends authorities scrambling
Reports of an oil sheen Saturday in the water off Huntington Beach sent authorities scrambling to determine if another spill was threatening the Orange County coast, but by nightfall they could not locate the oil and suspected that a small amount had dissipated.
State and federal authorities responded to the site where the sheen had been spotted in the early afternoon near the ruptured pipeline that caused a major oil spill Oct. 2, officials said.
“It is a light sheen, not a slick,” said U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Richard Braham. “The Coast Guard and [California Department of Fish and Wildlife] launched a team. They are currently investigating it.”
He said the sheen was reported to cover an area of 70 feet by 30 feet and likened it to the multicolored swirls that appear in the water when diesel gas is spilled at a boat dock. Divers working for Amplified Energy, the company that operates the oil platforms and pipeline that caused the spill, reported the sheen.
Braham said the state and federal responders, using boats and a helicopter, have been unable to find the sheen, and its cause was not determined.
“That’s not really unexpected; if you know these things, they break up pretty fast,” he said.
Authorities from the U.S. Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board think a ship’s anchor hit an oil pipeline off Huntington Beach coast and eventually led to the Oct. 2 spill.
Coast Guard officials reported in a tweet Saturday afternoon: “Previous syntho-glass wrap was removed from pipeline, new wrap was installed. Crews will monitor the line overnight ensuring effectiveness. The pipeline has remained shut down since the initial incident Oct 2.”
Amplify Energy had no comment about the reports, a spokesperson said.
State Sen. Dave Min (D-Irvine) said he was in touch with officials of the Department of Fish and Wildlife, who were continuing the search.
“Maybe it’s just some residue coming off one of the pipe repairs,” he said in an interview.
“But whether or not this is another oil spill,” he added, a future one is an “inevitability until we get rid of these oil platforms off our coast.”
Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley described the situation Saturday as “frustrating.”
She said she had received a report from Huntington Beach officials about how tourists were returning to the city.
“So we just can’t keep having these type of incidents or scares off our coastline,” she said. “The coast here is really a tourism destination. ... We have a solution that would prevent this from happening: We have to transition from offshore drilling.”
A major oil spill off the coast of Huntington Beach, Calif., washed up on nearby Orange County beaches, killing fish and birds and threatening local wetlands.
The Oct. 2 spill released an estimated 25,000 gallons of oil into the San Pedro Channel. Authorities believe the leak was caused by a ship’s anchor rupturing a pipeline that runs from an oil processing platform off Huntington Beach to the Port of Long Beach.
The October incident closed beaches from Huntington to San Clemente; initial reports that 130,000 gallons had been spilled sparked fears of an environmental catastrophe that would kill wildlife and befoul beaches for years. But the oil was mostly contained off the coast and did not cause significant destruction of tidal habitat.
However, the pipe rupture renewed calls to end drilling before a more devastating accident does occur.
Min pointed out that the aging infrastructure is no longer operated by corporations like the Shell Oil Co. — which built the unit off Huntington — but by smaller, “thinly capitalized” energy companies like Amplified that can’t afford the proper upkeep.
Maritime officials say the platforms off Orange County have always been hazardous because of heavy shipping out of the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.
On ships caught in the huge floating traffic jam off L.A., seafarers with scant access to vaccines have been stuck in limbo for months. Unions tell of despair and violence.
During the pandemic, a supply chain bottleneck has left dozens of cargo ships anchored in oil-drilling areas off the coast. Federal authorities believe one of their anchors dragged the Amplify pipeline, leading to the rupture. On Thursday, agents boarded the container vessel Beijing in Long Beach, identifying it as a second ship under investigation in the spill.
A Coast Guard investigator determined that the Beijing was involved in an anchor-dragging incident Jan. 25 during heavy weather at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, officials said in a statement, and the Coast Guard has designated the ship’s owner, Capetanissa Maritime Corp. of Liberia, and operator, V.Ships Greece Ltd., as parties of interest.
Another cargo vessel, MSC Danit, had previously been identified as under investigation for anchor-dragging.
Coast Guard Capt. Jason Neubauer, who is leading the investigation, told The Times “both vessels could be involved” in dragging the pipeline off Huntington Beach with their anchors earlier this year.
Times staff writers Cindy Carcamo and Connor Sheets and contributed to this report.
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