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More Than 120,000 Gallons of Crude Oil Force Closures from Huntington to Laguna

By Jake Howard

Less than a week after San Clemente’s Griffin Colapinto won the U.S. Open of Surfing and celebrated the biggest win of his career, the latest news coming out of Huntington Beach is decidedly grim.

On Saturday, Oct. 2, an estimated 126,000 gallons of oil spilled into the Pacific Ocean via a damaged pipeline.

By Sunday morning, Huntington Beach and Newport Beach were forced to close their beaches, as globs of black crude began washing up on the sand. Laguna Beach joined the list on Sunday evening. Tragically, the spill has already had a devastating impact on local fish, birds, and other wildlife in this precious ecosystem.

“Sadly, once the oil is spilled, it is too late. As we are again learning in Southern California, once the disaster has occurred, we can only try to minimize the damage,” said Dr. Chad Nelsen, CEO of the Surfrider Foundation. “That is why the Surfrider Foundation has consistently opposed new offshore oil drilling, and we ask you to join us in that opposition. We need a strong public response to combat special interests that are constantly pressing for more drilling along our precious coastlines.” 

Crude oil being captured on the sand in Huntington Beach after approximately 126,000 gallons of oil leaked from a damaged pipeline. Photo: Courtesy of Jax Richards

The platform is owned by Houston-based Amplify Energy. According to multiple news reports, the company notified the U.S. Coast Guard on Saturday morning of a sheen it found in the water while performing a routine line inspection.

Among the agencies leading the cleanup effort are the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time Huntington Beach has suffered from an oil spill. In 1990, an oil tanker ran over its anchor, puncturing its hull and spilling more than 417,000 gallons of crude oil.

The latest spill, reportedly covering about 13 square miles as of Monday, Oct. 4, is approximately the same size as the one that occurred at Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara in 2015. 

“The public is discouraged from actively participating in the cleanup or trying to save oiled wildlife, because the oil is highly toxic and you can cause more harm than good,” Surfrider said in a statement. “It is imperative that only those with the proper training are involved with the cleanup.”

“Members of the public should not go near the spill, as oil contains dangerous chemicals,” Surfrider continued. “The public can help by reporting oil or wildlife sightings and taking photos to document the disaster.”

For those who would like to get involved, Surfrider suggests texting the word “oilspill” to 51555 and sign up. They are also recommending that if you find affected wildlife to call the Oiled Wildlife Care Network at 877.823.6962.

People are also being asked not to approach potentially affected wildlife, as you can cause more harm than good to the animals.

What a difference a week makes. One moment a whole cadre of San Clemente’s pro surfers are celebrating a career moment for one of their own, and in what seems like the blink of an eye, the beaches in Surf City U.S.A. are closed, the birds and fish are suffering, and who knows how long it’s going to take to recover.

We’re fortunate here in South Orange County not to be plagued by offshore oil rigs, but that certainly doesn’t mean we’re safe or that we should be complacent. If you’ve read my column over the years, you know how I feel about the San Onofre Generating Station and the nuclear waste being stored near our beaches.

Whether it’s a leaky oil rig or a leaky canister of nuclear waste, it’s imperative that we understand the risks and hazards our delicate beaches and marine environment face. If we don’t, in the words of Ray Charles, “You’ll always miss the water when the well goes dry.”

Jake Howard is local surfer and freelance writer who lives in San Clemente. A former editor at Surfer Magazine, The Surfer’s Journal and ESPN, today he writes for a number of publications, including Picket Fence Media, Surfline and the World Surf League. He also works with philanthropic organizations such as the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center and the Positive Vibe Warriors Foundation.

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