California Oil Spill Results in Beach, Harbor, Fishery Closures

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Wildlife rescuers assess damage around Huntington Beach from 126,000 gallons of oil leaking from the Amplify Energy Pipeline

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On Monday morning, county officials closed the port in Newport Beach indefinitely and warned sailors that other nearby ports could close if the oil spill continued to move south.

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He also closed all beaches in Laguna Beach, south of the spill site, and advised residents who have been exposed to the oil or inhaled oil vapor to seek medical attention if they feel ill.

“Unfortunately, the size and potential impact of this oil spill makes it necessary for people to stay out of the water and avoid contact with the oil,” said Newport Beach Mayor Brad Avery. His city is keeping its beaches open but advising visitors to stay away from the shore.

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Leakage from equipment powered by Amplify Energy Corporation

The first information was received on Saturday morning. It rose significantly on Sunday and has so far spewed an estimated 126,000 gallons of oil into the Pacific south of Los Angeles, covering a 6-mile area between Huntington Beach and Newport Beach.

More than a dozen boats were deployed on Sunday in an effort to control and recover the oil. As of late Sunday, the operation had depleted about 3,150 gallons.

The slick, which continued to grow as of Sunday evening, now covers at least 13 square miles and was expected to seep into the towns of Laguna Beach, 10 miles south of the main areas affected over the weekend.

The spill, while large, is pale in comparison to some other oil discharges off the US coast. The largest on record was in 2010 when the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico, releasing 168 million gallons of oil in 87 days. In 1989, Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, causing a spill of 11 million gallons of crude oil.

The last largest spill in California left four million gallons off the coast of Santa Barbara in 1969. In 1990, about 400,000 gallons dropped from a tanker at its anchor offshore from Huntington Beach.

The final cost of the cleanup was unclear on Monday. Under federal law, Amplify Energy is required to have a bond or insurance to help officials pay the cost of cleaning. Depending on the volume of production in the oil field where the spill occurred, Amplify needs to set aside at least $35 million for the oil spill, said people experienced in oil regulation.

The company did not respond to inquiries about whether it had bonds or insurance.

Amplify is a small oil and gas company focused on older fields throughout the United States, including the waters off the coast of California. Amplify Energy chief executive Martin Wilser said on Sunday that the company suspects the leak occurred somewhere along a 4½-mile pipeline that connects an offshore platform called Ely to the coast.

Elly produces from a large offshore oil field called Beta and was established in 1980 according to the US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, or BSEE. According to company documents, Amplify Energy produces about 3,600 barrels of oil and gas a day from the Beta field.

Several large oil and gas companies have sold offshore assets in recent years as production declines, in order to shift liabilities related to plugging and dropping wells. But such asset sales present a risk to large oil companies because many of the buyers are smaller firms, such as Amplify Energy, which may not have the financial means to bear cleanup costs, analysts say.

Amplify Energy recently began work on the Beta field and plans to spend more than $20 million, including drilling offshoots from existing wells, to ramp up production there, the company said in an investor presentation in August. According to the company, about 1 billion barrels of oil are still present in this field.

According to BSEE, a subsidiary of the company, Beta Operating, has been issued 125 non-compliance violations by federal inspectors responsible for inspecting offshore oil platforms. The regulator did not give details of the nature of the violation.

Amplify Energy’s stock was down more than 50% late Monday.

As of Monday morning, four oil-injured birds had been rescued, one of which was later euthanized, said Dr. Michael Zicardi, director of the UC Davis Oiled Wildlife Care Network, which is coordinating animal rescue efforts.

The Pacific Marine Mammal Center in nearby Laguna Beach dispatched a truck full of donated supplies, including nitrile gloves, N-95 masks and garbage bags, on Monday morning.

“It’s bad, it could take us years to recover,” said Mammal Center spokeswoman Krista Higuchi.

A silver lining, that said, is that relatively few California sea lions and other pinnipeds are around the Orange County coast at this time of year, as are rooks on many offshore islands.

write to Christine Mai-Duke at [email protected], Christopher M. Matthews at [email protected] and Jim Carlton at [email protected]

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