Residents of Huntington Beach, California, started smelling oil fumes on Friday evening, and by Sunday, Mayor Kim Carr was calling the large oil spill an "environmental catastrophe" and a "potential ecological disaster." An estimated 126,000 gallons of crude oil, or 3,000 barrels, leaked into the waters off Orange County, affecting about 13 square miles of ocean and washing ashore on Huntington Beach, a famous surfing and recreation area about 40 miles south of Los Angeles.
The oil is believed to be leaking from a pipeline about 4.5 miles offshore, owned and maintained by Houston-based Amplify Energy Corp. Amplify said early Sunday that it had drained and capped off the relevant section of pipe, though it isn't clear that the leak has been fully stopped. The pipeline carries crude oil 17.5 miles from an oil processing platform in federal waters to a facility in Long Beach. The platform, dubbed Elly, and its adjacent oil drilling platforms have been in operation since 1980.
"In a year that has been filled with incredibly challenging issues, this oil spill constitutes one of the most devastating situations that our community has dealt with in decades," Carr said at a news conference. "We are doing everything in our power to protect the health and safety of our residents, our visitors, and our natural habitats." There are reports of dead birds and fish covered in oil, and Carr said "our wetlands are being degraded and portions of our coastline are now covered in oil."
Huntington Beach also canceled the second day of its popular Pacific Air Show on Sunday. More than a million people had visited the city for the first day, on Saturday. Along with the oil blobs on the beach and the sheen of oil in the coastal waters, the oil spill has left the area with a palpable stench. Amplify, the Coast Guard, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife are working to contain and clean up the mess, which is among the largest oil spills off California in decades.