Coast Guard received early warning of Orange County oil spill, records show

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The Coast Guard received several reports of a possible fuel spill off the southern California coast earlier than expected and asked local authorities to investigate about 15 hours before its own staff confirmed a large slick of oil, which came from a leaking undersea pipeline, according to records.

The first reports of a possible spill north of the Huntington Beach Pier reached the Coast Guard around 5:30 p.m. on October 1, according to a note from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department provided to The Associated Press on Wednesday. The documents indicate that there were several similar calls on a maritime radio emergency channel from boats leaving the Huntington Beach air show.

The department, which heads the county’s harbor patrol, sent a pump boat to search for the spill, but the crew lost visibility after dark, according to the California Public Records Act rating. . The spill was not confirmed until around 9 a.m. on Saturday.

The documents raise more questions about the Coast Guard’s response to a spill that forced the closure of some of the area’s iconic beaches and harmed animal and plant life.

U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Commander Jeannie Shaye said an official report was released after dark by the National Response Center on Friday. She was unable to immediately respond to questions about the maritime radio calls that the county memo said arrived before this time or about the harbor patrol search on Friday.

MP Cottie Petrie-Norris, who chairs a state legislative committee to review the spill, said she was told the spill was reported much later on Friday night when it was too late to detect it due to darkness.

“It sounds too crazy in a world where we’re trying to send a man to Mars that we can’t inspect a potential oil slick in the dark,” she said.

Miyoko Sakashita, a lawyer at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the Coast Guard should have reacted more aggressively after receiving the first reports.

“An investigation should have taken place immediately, and it could have significantly reduced the size of the spill,” said Sakashita, whose organization called on the federal government to stop offshore oil drilling. “Out of all of these reports, you should be able to triangulate that there is something that needs investigation immediately.”

Prior to the release of the Sheriff’s Department documents, it was believed that the first word of a possible spill came to the Coast Guard at 6:13 p.m. on October 1 from a foreign vessel anchored off Huntington Beach that reported a burst on the water that was over 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) long.

Rear Admiral Brian Penoyer previously told the AP that the Coast Guard broadcast a radio broadcast to area ships and oil rigs looking for reports confirming a possible spill. But Captain Rebecca Ore, the Unified Response Commander, said none of those shows have aired.

Coast Guard officials said they needed to review what, if anything, had been done at the time, but repeatedly declined to answer questions about the alleged broadcast.

Penoyer said the Coast Guard did not send a boat to search for the spill because it was limited by darkness and lacked the technology to detect it. The report from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, however, says the coast guard has asked the port patrol to send a boat.

The next morning, the Coast Guard contacted the harbor patrol again and its hazardous materials investigators came out on a county pump boat. Authorities on that boat located a black plume several kilometers long offshore, according to the note.

Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr said it was not clear advance notice would have made a difference.

“The hindsight is 20-20,” she said. But Carr added that had she been aware of the 5:30 p.m. report, it would have elevated the first notice she received of a possible spill around 9 a.m. the next morning.

Federal investigators are examining whether the Panama-registered MSC DANIT, a 1,200-foot (366-meter) container ship, was dragging anchor during a storm on January 25 and snagged the pipeline and dragged it to the bottom marine. It is not known why the leak occurred eight months later. Authorities are investigating whether other anchors struck and weakened the pipeline or whether a pre-existing condition of the line was to blame.

Houston-based Amplify Energy owns and operates the pipeline that transports oil from the company’s three offshore platforms. It is carefully examined for its hose maintenance and whether it reacted quickly enough to the spill.

According to the Coast Guard, about 25,000 gallons (94,635 liters) of oil spilled off Orange County. Balls of oil and tar washed up on the shore, forcing beaches to close for a week, significantly disrupting the local economy and killing dozens of birds. Conservationists say the damage was less than initially feared, but the long-term impact on wetlands and marine life is unknown.

Pete Stauffer, environmental director for Surfrider Foundation, which serves as the liaison between non-governmental agencies and the Unified Spill Response Command, said a rapid response to a spill is key to limiting damage.

“When there is a report of a significant oil slick in the ocean, it is important to investigate,” Stauffer said. “What happens in the first hours and days of an oil spill is absolutely critical.”

Nearly three weeks after the spill, authorities are starting to halt some cleanup efforts as conditions along the coastline improve. As tar balls continue to wash up further south in San Diego County, beach cleanups in parts of Orange County may soon be considered complete, the California Fish and Wildlife Lt. , Christian Corbo.

Workers are also reducing their efforts to scour the coastline in search of oiled wildlife, but they will continue to respond to public reports of oiled birds, said Dr Michael Ziccardi, director of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network. Six birds that were treated for oiling were released along the shore on Wednesday and six more are still being treated, he said, adding that they will hopefully be released next week.

A group of environmental organizations on Wednesday called on the Biden administration to suspend and cancel oil and gas leases in federal waters off the California coast. The Center for Biological Diversity and about three dozen organizations have sent a petition to the Home Office, arguing it has the power to end these leases and that the decades-old rigs off the coast of California are particularly susceptible to problems because of their age. .

The Home Office declined to comment on the petition.


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