Where is the Orange County oil spill moving, and which beaches are threatened?

·4 min read
Huntington Beach, CA - October 03: A view of oil that formed into globules, foam and sheen that flowed in from high tide and was held back by a sand berm and boom in a trapped pool as a major oil spill washes ashore on the border of Huntington Beach and Newport Beach at the Santa Ana River Jetties Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021. Crews raced Sunday morning to contain the damage from a major oil spill off the Orange County coast that left crude spoiling beaches, killing fish and birds and threatening local wetlands. The oil slick is believed to have originated from a pipeline leak, pouring 126,000 gallons into the coastal waters and seeping into the Talbert Marsh as lifeguards deployed floating barriers known as booms to try to stop further incursion, said Jennifer Carey, Huntington Beach city spokesperson. At sunrise Sunday, oil was on the sand in some parts of Huntington Beach with slicks visible in the ocean as well. "We classify this as a major spill, and it is a high priority to us to mitigate any environmental concerns," Carey said. "It's all hands on deck." (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Oil from the spill has formed into globules, foam and a glossy sheen. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The massive oil spill from a 126,000-gallon leak off the Orange County coast is moving south, threatening marine protected areas as well as popular beaches.

The oil will likely continue to encroach on Orange County beaches for the next few days, officials said.

Here is a breakdown of what we know:

Newport Beach

Softball-sized clumps have washed ashore between the mouth of the Santa Ana River and 52nd Street. Much of the slick remains about a quarter-mile offshore, city spokesman John Pope said. Newport Beach officials closed the city’s recreational harbor Monday morning in an effort to stem the spread of the oil.

“We don’t have oil in there right now, so a huge priority is keeping oil from getting into the harbor,” Pope said.

Newport Beach has not closed its beaches, but officials have asked people to stay out of the water. The Orange County Health Care Agency issued a health advisory Sunday recommending that those who may have encountered oil in the water seek medical attention.

Crystal Cove

The Crystal Cove beach had not reported any oil as of early Monday, but officials say that could change depending on the ocean currents throughout the day.

Coast Guard officials are flying over the spill three to four times a day to map the oil’s direction and compare it with tides, currents and winds to project the potential impact to beaches to the south.

“It really is dependent on the prevailing weather conditions, but the oil continues to move in a southerly direction,” said Capt. Rebecca Ore, commander of the USCG Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach.

Officials had feared Sunday night that the slick was headed south, threatening the pristine marine area.

Laguna Beach

In Laguna Beach, officials say roughly golf ball-sized pieces of tar have washed up along Crescent Bay, a beach known for its distinctive cove that runs about a quarter-mile, where Cliff Drive intercepts North Coast Highway, and Shaw’s Cove.

“Right now it varies. The oil clusters range from the size of a quarter to just particle-size droplets,” said Kevin Snow, chief of marine safety for Laguna Beach. “Beach closures are needed to protect the health and safety of the public and to allow contractors to begin oil cleanup.”

Laguna Beach closed city beaches Sunday night.

Two contracted oil-recovery vessels known as skimmers worked off the coast of Laguna Beach overnight to prevent as much of the oil from coming ashore as possible, Snow said.

“The entire city is a marine-protected area, which means we have sensitive marine habitat and wildlife here that is protected," he said, "and we need resources to protect this unique ecosystem."

Huntington Beach

So far, this city's coast has been hardest hit.

A 5½-mile stretch of sand in Huntington Beach from Seapoint Street near the Bolsa Chica wetlands to the Newport Beach city line at the Santa Ana River jetty remained closed Monday as crews continued cleanup efforts.

Crews deployed 2,050 feet of booms to try to stop further incursion and protect sensitive wildlife areas, including Talbert Marsh, a 25-acre ecological reserve across from Huntington State Beach that is home to dozens of species of birds.

County officials also built large sand berms in the area to keep ocean water and oil from continuing to flow into the habitat, which has already been breached by oil. Officials on Sunday requested additional booms to protect the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve.

Bolsa Chica

The state beach to the north of Huntington Beach remained open and is currently not under threat as the oil slick moves south.

Dana Point

This South County beach and harbor community has not seen any closures yet. But the area was covered by a state-imposed ban on fishing and collecting shellfish that stretched north to Huntington Beach.

"The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment has determined that a threat to public health is likely by fishing in the affected area or consuming fish or shellfish that may have been affected by the spill," the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said in a news release Monday.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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