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Oil Spill off California Coast Devastates Wetlands, Kills Wildlife

Energy
​Workers in boats try to clean up floating oil near gulls.
Workers in boats try to clean up floating oil near gulls in the Talbert Marshlands as a 3,000-barrel oil spill, about 126,000 gallons, reaches the shore and sensitive wildlife habitats in Newport Beach, California on Oct. 3, 2021. DAVID MCNEW / AFP via Getty Images
At least 126,000 gallons of crude oil have gushed from a pipeline just five miles off the Southern California coast Sunday, wreaking still-unknown devastation on local wetlands and fouling Huntington Beach.

"It's terrible," Jon Ely, a 58-year-old Huntington Beach resident, told the Los Angeles Times. "This stuff is not going to come up. It's goo, and it's thick." The pipeline, owned by Houston-based oil and gas company Amplify Energy, has "probably been leaking longer than we know," Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley told CNN Sunday.

Dead fish and birds are already washing up on shore. The toxic slick caused by the pipeline rupture spanned 8,320 acres, officials said, and while the leak appears to have stopped, crews have been unable to actually fix the pipeline. It also "infiltrated" the Talbert Marsh wetland, threatening numerous bird species.

Cal State coastal ecotoxicologist told The Washington Post seabirds, marine mammals, and crustaceans living near the shore are most at risk. Birds will try to clean their oily feathers with their beak, as if the oil is "a piece of dirt. Then they ingest the oil and if it's a little, it might be okay, but it's usually a pretty toxic exposure, and they die."

As reported by the Los Angeles Times:

Huntington State Beach is home to a number of species of birds, including gulls, willets, elegant terns and reddish egrets, which are a rarity on the west coast, according to Ben Smith, a biologist and environmental consultant for the county.
Smith drove to the beach Sunday morning to observe wildlife ahead of a construction project planned at the mouth of the Santa Ana River, which opens into the ocean at the border of Huntington State Beach and Newport Beach.
"There's tar everywhere," he said, as he surveyed the birds congregated on the north bank of the river. "You think by now we would have figured out how to keep this kind of thing from happening, but I guess not."
The spill could have a significant impact on the habitat, he said.
"If the birds get into this tar it's going to stick to their feathers and it's going to be a problem for them," he said. "It contaminated the water — it's bad for the wildlife, bad for the water, bad for the people who use the water. It's really unfortunate."

For a deeper dive:

The Washington Post, CNN, Los Angeles Times, NBC, CBS, ABC, The Guardian, The New York Times, The Hill, The Washington Post

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