Oil sheen off Huntington Beach; Source: U.S. Coast Guard

Probe into oil sheen off Huntington Beach still underway

In response to an oil sheen observed off the coast of Huntington Beach, California, 85 gallons of product have been recovered while 800 pounds of oily waste and tar balls have been removed from the shoreline. Currently, the investigation into the source of the sheen is ongoing.

Oil sheen off Huntington Beach; Source: U.S. Coast Guard

After the Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach Command Center received a report on March 7 of an unknown substance in the water 1.5 miles off the coast of Huntington Beach, a Unified Command with representatives from the U.S. Coast Guard, California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (CDFW-OSPR), and Orange County Sheriff’s Department was established.

The Coast Guard Pollution Responders set out with a Newport Harbor Patrol boat to investigate while a Coast Guard helicopter conducted an overflight in the area at sunrise. Upon investigation, an oil sheen was discovered, spanning 2.5 miles in length and 0.5 miles in width, roughly 2.8 miles off Huntington Beach near two platforms, Emmy and Eva.

No source of the oil sheen was identified at the time and no oiled wildlife was observed. The Coast Guard hired an oil spill response organization to conduct offshore oil collection while working to identify possible impacts to the shoreline and environmental protection strategies.

Furthermore, the Unified Command continued its response to the oil sheen 2.5 miles off Huntington Beach the following day with approximately 85% of the sheen, roughly 85 gallons of product, recovered before the deteriorating sea state caused operations to pause for the evening.

An onshore recovery team was given the green light to conduct shoreline assessments and cleanup. In addition, the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) was activated, with crews investigating reports of oiled wildlife. On March 8, one oiled grebe was recovered.

Moreover, an overflight on the morning of March 9 did not find any remaining recoverable sheen, however, tar balls were observed along the shoreline in Huntington Beach, and onshore recovery teams were set to assess the shoreline and remove them as needed.

Oil sheen off Huntington Beach; Source: U.S. Coast Guard

Based on information received from on-scene responders, the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) found the possibility of a public health threat associated with consuming fish due to the incident unlikely. OEHHA advises against fishing in areas with a visible sheen on the water but there was no fisheries closure due to the oil sheen incident.

An overflight conducted on March 10 did not observe any sheen offshore, thus, offshore recovery assets were expected to be demobilized. On the other hand, shoreline cleanup teams were still observing tar balls along the beaches in Huntington Beach and were going to remove them as needed.

At this point, cleanup crews recovered about 85 gallons of product from offshore recovery and removed about 800 pounds of oily waste and tar balls from the shoreline. Wildlife Branch operations continued with crews surveying the shoreline to respond to reports of oiled wildlife.

Three live birds that were visibly oiled were recovered: a Brandt’s cormorant, a common loon, and a western grebe. The cormorant died in care overnight along with an injured, unoiled snowy plover that was captured.

The Coast Guard clarified that the reports about a discharge of produced water from the Elly platform on the morning of March 8 were correct, however, the characteristics of the produced water from the platform did not align with what was observed from the sheen.

As a result, the Coast Guard does not believe the sheen and the discharge are related, but the investigation into the source of the sheen continues to run its course. Currently, California has three remaining oil platforms in operation off the Coast of Orange County – Eva, Emmy, and Ester – constructed between 1963 and 1985.

In the wake of the 2021 oil spill off the coast of Orange County, California has intensified its efforts to end offshore drilling with Senator Dave Min’s Senate Bill (SB) 559.

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This bill, which overcame its first legislative stumbling block in January, will require the California State Lands Commission to take immediate steps to terminate the remaining leases for offshore oil drilling in California waters.

This came after Governor Newsom threw his support behind a lawsuit filed in San Francisco County Superior Court last year against ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, BP, and the American Petroleum Institute (API).