Southern California oil spill threatens wildlife

Article and graphic by Rubi Melo

As October began, surfers, tourists and other beachgoers were told to stay far away from the beaches along the coast of southern California. The Coast Guard and other officials proclaimed the beaches unsafe due to a major oil spill, five miles out from Huntington Beach, near Orange County. The oil spill was caused by a crack in an oil pipeline owned by Amplify Energy. An estimated 25,000 to 132,000 gallons of oil spilled into the ocean from the ruptured pipeline. By October 10th, 5,500 gallons of oil and 250,000 pounds of oil debris had been recovered. 

It is still unclear what caused the pipeline to crack, but the most popular theory is that a large ship’s anchor caught the pipeline and dragged its concrete casing, displacing it. The crack on the inner part of the pipeline is a mystery and is being investigated. According to ABC7 News, “Coast Guard Capt. Jason Neubauer told reporters that underwater video of the damaged pipeline shows ‘marine growth’ around the 13-inch crack in the pipeline that was left exposed…” This “marine growth” has led investigators to believe that the crack in the pipeline may have been there for several months to a year and that oil may have been seeping into the ocean before October.

There is also some controversy surrounding the time that the oil leak was reported and how quickly observers notified officials. According to CNN, “authorities were notified late Friday [Oct. 1st] of reports of an oil sheen…” however that was nearly twelve hours before Amplify Energy reported the leak to federal or state officials. 

A portion of the oil that spilled into the ocean made its way to nearby coastal wetlands, where wildlife is abundant. In the fall, birds typically migrate to the south of California; this year, the birds that go to the wetlands in Orange County will be migrating to terrible living conditions. 

Animal rescuers and scientists are rushing to find and treat birds that they can find covered in oil. On Monday, October 4th, officials had already captured four different birds that needed treatment. They spotted other birds, but flying around, they are much more difficult to capture. Wildlife experts are collecting birds and other animals as they come in from the shore as well, in hopes that they can help as many animals as possible. It is likely that animals in the area will ingest toxic oil through their food or by breathing in the air, which can have serious effects on the animal’s health. 

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