Small glassy waves rolled onto the shore on Saturday morning, a week after an oil spill sent clumps of black tar to the sands in Huntington Beach, raising fears of long-term damage to the region’s fragile ecosystems and cutting off access to the ocean for residents, visitors and fishermen.
But that didn’t stop a dozen or more surfers in dark suits from running into the water for a morning session. They caught some good waves before a lifeguard descended from a blue tower.
âWatch out, surfers. Watch out, surfers, a voice yelled through a megaphone. âThe water is currently closed due to unsafe conditions. “
Huntington Beach resident Brett Simpson, 39, and Long Beach resident Ralph Rodriguez, 62, dragged their boards out of the water and onto the sand, where they gathered by the shower near the parking lot.
âThe water is cleaner than tap water,â Rodriguez said. âThere is no oil there. If there had been oil, I would have been the first to come out of the water. I’m old, man.
A week after the public learned of the oil spill – whose residual plumes, officials say, are now heading to beaches in northern San Diego County – several key questions remain: when and how an oil pipeline came to be. it been damaged? What happened in the 15 hours between the first oil spotting and the time the federal authorities were notified? And what exactly was the size of the leak?
In the first days after the spill, authorities warned that up to 144,000 gallons of crude could have leaked from the pipeline, which connects the port of Long Beach to a processing and production platform at off the shore of Huntington Beach.
But later in the week, a U.S. Coast Guard official explained that the spill was likely smaller than initially expected, reducing the expected leak size from 24,696 to 131,000 gallons.
Last week, tarballs and patties swept the shoreline, some reaching San Diego County, and as of Saturday afternoon, more than 1,000 people were still cleaning the shoreline in much of Orange County, the Petty Officer said from Coast Guard Steve Strohmaier.
Much of the cleanup efforts are now focused on the beach rather than the ocean, Strohmaier said, adding that “little or no” oil had been seen on the water in recent aerial surveys. The weather conditions were ideal for the beach cleanup on Saturday, he said, noting that teams were in the process of identifying and cleaning up affected areas, including Laguna Beach and Dana Point.
In the coming weeks, the focus will be on examining the potential long-term effects of the spill on creatures living in and around the water, including Western Snow Plovers, listed by the federal government. as endangered shorebirds that have only recently returned to the sandy beaches of Orange County.
A first working theory was that a backlog of cargo traffic waiting offshore in the hours leading up to the spill was directly related to the leak. Federal officials said a ship’s anchor dragging on the seabed could have scratched the pipeline.
Midweek, the spotlight turned to a massive freighter called the Rotterdam Express, which had been anchored in the pipeline area before the spill was discovered. U.S. Coast Guard officials examined the ship
Wednesday and the company said officials finally told them the ship was no longer under investigation.
The true timeline of when the pipeline was first damaged, officials said Friday, could go back several months or perhaps almost a full year.
An early anchorage may have dislodged part of the pipeline, stripping it of its concrete shell and making it more vulnerable in the months that followed, Coast Guard officials said, adding that they were focusing on a storm with gusty winds in late January. It is clear from marine growth on the displaced portion of the pipeline, officials said, that anchor drag likely has not occurred recently.
The chief of Amplify Energy, the company that operates the drilling rig, evaded questions about the timing of the company’s actions in the hours leading up to federal officials reporting the oil spill. And analyze what exactly happened during the 15-hour gap between when workers on the drilling rig first saw oil in the water and when authorities were notified. will undoubtedly play a key role in the investigation.
Back in the beachside parking lot on Saturday morning, Simpson and Rodriguez recalled years of surfing together in Huntington Beach. Oil rigs on the horizon have always been the backdrop, they said.
âWe need to be stricter and on top of them,â Simpson said of the oil companies. “They’re doing a little well, a slap on the wrist – it’s nothing to them.”
More needs to be done to empower businesses, he said.
âIf we don’t have an ocean, we don’t have life,â he said. âWe need the ocean. Isn’t it, Brett? “
Later that day, dozens of people gathered at the base of Huntington Pier for the annual Surfboard Builders Hall of Fame induction ceremony, a long-standing event that was canceled the last year due to COVID-19.
Among the crowd was Californian surfing legend and board maker Mickey Munoz, famous for his âQuasimodoâ stance.
Having lived and surfed in Southern California for most of his life, Munoz is no stranger to oil spills. Standing by the pier, he recalled a surfing competition in the 1970s in which runners came out of water covered in black tar.
“We are never going to reverse the nature of humanity,” he said, pointing to the oil rigs that dot the coast. “The dice have already been cast here in Southern California.”
Munoz crumpled the fabric of his black windbreaker bearing his nickname, “The Mongoose”. with his hands.
âHalf of what I have on me is made with oil,â he said.