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Oil sheen confirmed off Huntington Beach; Coast Guard investigating

USCG is responding to a sheen approximately 2.5 miles long 1.5 miles off Huntington Beach, CA. Working with local authorities. Aerial surveys are planned to assess the size and potential impacts. More updates will follow.
A U.S. Coast Guard photo shows a sheen on the surface of the ocean about two miles off the coast of Huntington Beach. (United States Coast Guard)

The U.S. Coast Guard is investigating an oil sheen off the coast of Huntington Beach that stretches about two miles long and half a mile wide, officials said Friday.

Officials received a report about 6:50 p.m. Thursday of an unknown substance about 1½ miles offshore, and local emergency responders were on site through the night, the agency said. Early Friday, Coast Guard officials flew over the site and confirmed an oil sheen almost three miles offshore that they said was not from natural statedcauses.

Orange County Supervisors Don Wagner and Katrina Foley both posted on social media about the incident Friday morning to their constituents.

"Early thoughts are that it’s from a platform," Foley posted on X at 8:05 a.m. The Coast Guard reported the oil sheen was near platforms Emmy and Eva and potential sources for it have been contacted, but none have been officially identified.

Wagner stated on X that "Emergency personnel are on scene and working to identify the source."

By Friday night, roughly 85% of the sheen — or about 85 gallons — had been recovered, according to the Coast Guard. Operations were halted for the evening, but a helicopter was set to inspect the area again at first light Saturday.

Officials were still investigating the source of the substance, as well as assessing any wildlife impacts. One oiled grebe was recovered Friday, the Coast Guard said.

The city of Huntington Beach has not announced any beach closures, but mariners have received a safety alert to stay out of the area. A KTLA-TV helicopter captured images and video of a dark, reflective substance floating across the water, and locals have started to see some of that oil washing ashore. "We're seeing some tarballs coming up on the [Huntington] Dog Beach," Foley said by phone.

As of Friday evening, neighboring beach cities were not reporting any signs of oil residue on their shores.

Newport Beach officials said police officers and lifeguards had been deployed to monitor the coast for any signs of petroleum.

"The spill is not believed to pose a threat to Newport Beach," city officials said in a statement.

In Long Beach, city officials said beaches there remain open with no visible impacts.

Costa Mesa resident Kent Adams was out on a walk with his dog on Friday morning when he noticed a Frisbee-sized spot of oil washed up on the south entrance to the dog park. “You rarely see that," said Adams. "I usually stay away from the beach if I know about them, because I don’t want it all over her.”

With still no identifiable source, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has joined with other agencies in trying to determine if the oil sheen is from an active spill, state Sen. Dave Min (D-Irvine) said in a statement. Gov. Gavin Newsom commented on social media that state officials “are actively monitoring” the situation in collaboration with “local, state and federal partners.”

A representative for the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit environmental group based in Arizona, said California officials need to take stronger action to remove the offshore oil rigs to protect the ocean and marine life.

“It’s grim to wake up to yet another ugly oil spill off California’s beautiful coast, and we have to do a lot more than just try to mop up the miles-long mess,” said Brady Bradshaw.

“This same tangle of pipelines and platforms produced the massive 2021 spill, and it’s time for state and federal regulators to take tough, urgent action to get this decrepit infrastructure out of the ocean. California’s wildlife and coastal communities have suffered too much for too long and there’s no more room for excuses.”

Last August, a 40-foot vessel carrying 300 gallons of diesel sank just off the coast of Huntington Beach, spilling about 300 gallons of the fuel and leading officials to warn beach goers from water recreational activities.

The last spill in Huntington Beach associated with an oil processing platform was in 2021, when a ruptured underwater oil pipeline in San Pedro Bay spilled about 25,000 gallons of crude into the ocean and along the coast.

The spill was quickly linked to an oil processing platform called Elly, which stands roughly nine miles from shore in federal waters, according to investigators. In the days and weeks that followed, Elly’s operator, Amplify Energy Corp., fell under increasing scrutiny for a 15-hour delay in notifying federal regulators about the spill.

In 2023, National Transportation Safety Board investigators concluded that the ruptured pipeline had been struck by two cargo ship anchors and that the pipeline company subsequently failed to follow protocols. A federal grand jury later indicted Amplify Energy and two subsidiaries on criminal charges for their alleged role in the spill.

Amplify paid out a $50-million settlement to impacted individuals and businesses. Their company assisted in the three-month long cleanup and paid the city of Huntington Beach $1 million for costs in fees associated with the effort.

Amplify in turn received a $96.5-million settlement from the companies whose ships were involved, according to a statement.

In a statement Friday, the company said it had no indication that the latest oil sheen was related to its operations.

"We will continue to cooperate with the U.S. Coast Guard and other relevant authorities and provide support in any way we can," the statement said.

Sen. Min called the offshore oil rigs "a ticking time bomb" in a news release Friday: "They were built in the 1960s and 1970s, and are long past their expected lifetimes." He expressed concerns that companies are not investing in outdated safety infrastructure, which could lead to further oil spills.

Min, who represents the cities of Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, and Laguna Beach, which were affected by the 2021 oil spill, had proposed legislation that would have given state officials the authority to negotiate and terminate leases for offshore oil drilling.

But the bill was killed in the Legislature earlier this year. Min is retiring from his post and is looking to others to take up the cause.

"I am hopeful that SB 559 will provide a model for future legislators to take up, in California and at the federal level," he said.

Times staff writer Salvador Hernandez and Daily Pilot reporter Matt Szabo contributed to this story.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.