Huntington Beach Oil Sheen Likely Natural Seepage, Says Coast Guard

Huntington Beach Oil Sheen Likely Natural Seepage, Says Coast Guard

An oil sheen off Huntington Beach, Calif., on March 8, 2024. (Petty Officer 1st Class Richard Brahm/U.S. Coast Guard via AP)

Sophie Li

Sophie Li

3/12/2024

Updated: 3/13/2024

A miles-long oil sheen off the coast of Huntington Beach appears to have been natural seepage from the ocean floor, the U.S. Coast Guard said March 11.
The sheen was first spotted March 7.
Responding crews wrapped up their operation Monday after retrieving approximately 85 gallons of oil during the weekend, the agency said. Additionally, they cleared around 1,050 pounds of oily waste, sand, and tar balls from the shoreline.
Officials confirmed that the substance from the sheen and the tar balls is “lightly weathered crude oil rather than a refined product like gasoline or diesel,” though they failed to “definitively identify the oil source” based on the collected samples, the agency said in a statement.
According to the agency, oil samples analyzed resemble freshly produced oil—which is typically associated with natural seeps—rather than heavily weathered oil that has been in the ocean for an extended period.
Additionally, the samples suggest a match with local crude oil, rather than that which is imported and transported by ships to California, according to the statement.
The unusual volume of crude observed is noteworthy, as natural seepage typically goes unnoticed, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Richard Uranga.
“We don’t know what caused so much to appear,” he said.
After the oil sheen was spotted, Coast Guard Pollution Responders, accompanied by a Newport Harbor Patrol boat, were dispatched at 6:30 a.m. March 8 to investigate. Additionally, a helicopter conducted an overflight in the area after sunrise, according to the agency.
Responders discovered the sheen spanning roughly 2.5-miles-long and 0.5-mile-wide nearly 3 miles off the coast, the Coast Guard reported.
Local authorities quickly responded to clean up the spill. No beach closures were mandated, but the public was cautioned, via the Orange County Health Care Agency, to refrain from touching tar balls along the shoreline.
Local officials conducted a helicopter flyover March 9 and reported no oil sheen visible at the time, the City of Huntington Beach announced via Facebook.
Wildlife teams inspected the shoreline for oiled animals also March 9 and found four live birds affected: two Brandt’s cormorants, a common loon, and a western grebe, said Fish and Wildlife spokesperson Greg McGowan. One cormorant died overnight, while an injured snowy plover, not affected by oil, also did after capture.
This marks the region’s second recent potential oil spill incident.
In 2021, 25,000 gallons of crude oil leaked into the ocean miles off the Huntington Beach coast, causing environmental damage and economic losses. The incident occurred after anchors from two container ships caught an underwater oil pipeline during a storm, weakening it and leading to a rupture months later.
That spill resulted in numerous lawsuits, millions of dollars in settlements, and fines imposed on pipeline owner Amplify Energy Corp.
Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley said last Friday that reforms implemented after the 2021 incident seem to have enhanced the response this time.
“We have a better system in place now,” Ms. Foley said. “Everybody is all coordinated now—better than they were before so they got a quick response out there.”
City News Service contributed to this report.
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Sophie Li

Sophie Li

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Sophie Li is a Southern California-based reporter covering local daily news, state policies, and breaking news for The Epoch Times. Besides writing, she is also passionate about reading, photography, and tennis.

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