What Southern California’s oil-drenched waters, beaches look like

Clean-up contractors deploy skimmers and floating barriers known as booms to try to stop further oil crude incursion into the Talbert Marsh wetlands in Huntington Beach, Calif., Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021.Ringo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press

Approximately 126,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into the ocean and washed onto the sands of Orange County beaches 30 miles south of Los Angeles over the weekend, coating the coast in oil, contaminating wetlands and putting off a foul stench. 

The oil spewed from a facility operated by Beta Offshore from a suspected leak in an underwater pipeline, leading to what the Orange County Register is calling the worst oil spill in three decades. 

Oil washes up on Huntington Beach, Calif., Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021.Ringo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press

Photos showed a sheen that spread for some 13 square miles across the ocean, between the Huntington Beach Pier and Newport Beach. Sticky black blobs scattered across beaches and images showed birds caught in the muck. 

Authorities closed city and state beaches in Huntington Beach on Saturday, and the neighboring city of Laguna Beach said Sunday night its beaches were shuttered. Newport Harbor remained open as of Sunday night. The city asked boaters to avoid traversing the oil spill as oil may cling to vessels and this could bring oil into the harbor. “Oil Spill Response Vessels will be skimming oil off the coast throughout the night,” the city said on Twitter

Oil spread into the Santa Ana River Trail and Talbert Marsh, a 25-acre wetland that provides critical habitat for dozens of bird species.

A person stands near oil washed up on Huntington State Beach after a 126,000-gallon oil spill from an offshore oil platform on Oct. 3, 2021, in Huntington Beach, Calif.Mario Tama/Getty Images

Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr said the beaches of the community nicknamed “Surf City” could remain closed for weeks or even months. 

Some residents, business owners and environmentalists questioned whether authorities reacted quickly enough to contain one of the largest oil spills in recent California history.

A bird balances on a boom, a temporary floating barrier to contain oil that seeped into Talbert Marsh, home to around 90 bird species, after a 126,000-gallon oil spill from an offshore oil platform on Oct. 3, 2021, in Huntington Beach, Calif.Mario Tama/Getty Images

People who live and work in the area said they noticed an oil sheen and a heavy petroleum smell Friday evening.

But it wasn’t until Saturday afternoon that the Coast Guard said an oil slick had been spotted and a unified command established to respond. And it took until Saturday night for the company that operates the pipeline believed responsible for the leak to shut down operations.

An aerial view of a major oil spill washing ashore with birds feeding at the water’s edge on the border of Huntington Beach and Newport Beach at the Santa Ana River Jetties on Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021, in Huntington Beach, Calif.Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times/TNS

“The hundred-thousand of gallons of oil that spilled into the ocean near Huntington Beach provide a stark and dark reminder that oil is dirty, dangerous, and can make our air and water too toxic for life,” Laura Deehan, state director of Environment California, said in a statement.

Clean-up contractors deploy skimmers and floating barriers known as booms to try to stop further oil crude incursion into the Talbert Marsh in Huntington Beach, Calif., Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021.Ringo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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