Nearly all of Orange County’s coastline is at risk after more than a hundred thousand gallons of crude oil spilled just five miles off the coast.

OC Oil Spill

Latest Figures
  • Authorities now estimate a spill size range between 25,000 gallons to a maximum of 131,000 gallons
  • 5,544 gallons of oily water retrieved
  • Approximately 172,500 pounds of oily debris has been recovered from shorelines
  • 14,060 feet of boom laid to try to curb oil spread
  • More than 900 people on the ground in cleanup effort
  • General questions: 714-374-1702
  • Do not approach affected wildlife, call in a report: 877-823-6926
  • Assist with animals: 714-374-5587
  • Help with cleanups: 714-374-1702
  • File a claim: 866-985-8366

The leak’s source within the offshore pipeline has not yet been found and as of Sunday afternoon, divers were still searching for the source. The oil system was shut down in an effort to try to prevent further leakage.

More than a day into the oil spill it is not yet known when the leak began and how much oil has leaked. The latest information on how much crude has leaked was put out early Sunday morning, at 126,000 gallons.

In their first update since announcing the spill had swelled to over 100,000 gallons, the US Coast Guard said so far 1,218 gallons of “oily water mixture,” have been recovered, and that nine boats have been dispatched for recovery operations.

There was no update on what may have caused the spill.

The spill has crews scrambling to curb oil from reaching the coast and delicate marshlands, workers posting beach closure signs and workers readying to deal with effects on local wildlife.

Residents and politicians signaled that dead fish were washing ashore, and multiple posters on social media shared photos of birds covered in oil. As of Sunday night, the US Coast Guard reported they’d aided one oiled Ruddy duck and were investigating other claims.

HAZMAT crews try to stop the spread of oil near the Talbert Channel in Huntington Beach on Sunday, October 3, 2021(Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

Timeline and Closures

Officials on Sunday said they do not know how long it will take for the cleanup effort. They said that this will be “a sustained and long-term effort.”

Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr said she has heard estimates ranging from “a few weeks to a few months” for how long the beaches will be closed.

“This is one of the most devastating situations our city has dealt with in decades,” Carr said. “We will face this challenge.”

Huntington Beach has completely shut down the city’s beaches south of the Huntington Beach Pier, raising concerns about the “toxicity created by the spill.” 

“Do not swim, surf or exercise near the spill.”

Dr. Clayton Chau, director of OC’s Public Health Care Agency

On Sunday Chau explained that the oil is both toxic to touch and by vapor, and encouraged people to stay away.

Officials said that people wanting to volunteer with cleanup efforts may be able to do so in the future, but through a more controlled process to ensure health safety.

When asked on Sunday about if beachgoers for the Saturday Huntington Beach air show were exposed to the oil, Chau said his understanding is that the spill did not reach the coastline until late Saturday, after the air show.

But Newport Beach, which announced its first sightings of oil on the beach Sunday morning, said their beaches would remain open for business with an advisory in place about the water, and the harbor will remain open for boating and recreational use. 

Huntington Beach, south of the pier, is closed due to an oil spill on Sunday, October 3, 2021(Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

“People need to take authorities seriously and stay away from the area. People tend to talk about the tarry parts of the oil but there’s also volatile portions of the oil they can breathe depending on the type of oil,” said Linda Bui, a professor of environmental services at Louisiana State University who’s also studied the Bolsa Chica Wetlands area that’s under threat. 

Bui also said the long term impacts on the local environment will be felt for years to come. 

“If you’d told me in 2010 when the BP oil spill happened I’d still be seeing impacts I can relate to the oil spill eleven years later, I would’ve told you no way,” Bui said. “This is very distressing.” 

Oil started washing up on Huntington Beach Sunday morning, with beachgoers posting as early as 6 p.m. Saturday about seeing oil in the water and smelling oil fumes. 

The spill is expected to impact the coastline from the Huntington Beach pier all the way south to the Corona del Mar Main Beach, over eight miles of the county coastline. The spill also prompted officials to cancel the second day of the Huntington Beach air show.

Currently, all the beach south of the Huntington Beach Pier through Beach Boulevard is closed along with Huntington Beach State Beach according to Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr. 

Newport Beach announced the first oil had landed on Sunday morning between 52nd street and the Santa Ana River. Officials from both cities are asking residents to stay out of the water.

“The health and safety of our residents are most important, there will be other opportunities to catch waves.”

Kim Carr, Huntington Beach Mayor

“The oil has moved into the Talbert Channel, and we have laid over 1,000 feet of boom. It has breached one of the booms and gone onto the second,” Carr said late Saturday of efforts to keep oil out of sensitive coastal environments.

Impacts on Wildlife, Environment

In a press release early Sunday morning, Huntington Beach said the spill had “substantial ecological impacts occurring at the beach and at the Huntington Beach Wetlands.” 

So far, there haven’t been any official reports of how much wildlife was impacted by the spill, but a 2007 oil spill from the Cosco Busan ship poured 53,000 gallons of oil into the Bay Area killed 6,800 birds alone.

By comparison, that spill is half the size of the one off the coast of Orange County. If you spot  affected wildlife, officials are asking that you do not attempt to help them and call the Oiled Wildlife Care Network hotline at 877-823-6926. 

During a Sunday press conference, officials said that impacts on local wildlife will take time to understand, as some animals may not show impact until days later.

HAZMAT crews try to stop the spread of oil near the Talbert Channel in Huntington Beach on Sunday, October 3, 2021(Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

The city deployed oil skimmers and booms to block as much oil as possible from reaching the coast, but the oil had already overtaken the first wall of booms according to Carr. 

As of Saturday night, the oil plume ran around 6.6 miles long from the Huntington Beach Pier down into Newport Beach after officials said it was around 13 square miles earlier in the day. 

Government Response

Rep. Michelle Steel (R-Costa Mesa) on Sunday shared a letter she sent to President Biden asking for him to declare a major disaster for Orange County. She wrote: “your approval of this request is imperative for a swift recovery and the support of assistance efforts for all Californians.”

Rep. Mike Levin (D-San Juan Capistrano) also sent out a message Sunday writing: “We must stop all new offshore drilling off our Southern California coast! I’m leading the House bill to do just that and won’t stop until we get it done.”

HAZMAT crews try to stop the spread of oil near the Talbert Channel in Huntington Beach on Sunday, October 3, 2021(Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

Gov. Gavin Newsom sent out a message at 11:36 a.m. Sunday to say: “We are working closely with federal partners, the U.S. Coast Guard, and others to monitor the oil spill in Orange County. If you are in the area, please heed local warnings and stay away from unsafe areas.”

Newport Beach City Councilman Will O’Neill posted a photo of a pelican covered in oil on 11th street, one of the first shots of the impact on animals, as he encouraged residents to use the hotline.

Jennifer Carey, the public information officer for the Huntington Beach Police Department, said the origin of the spill had yet to be “determined/confirmed,” by the US Coast Guard on Sunday morning in a text to Voice of OC.

Oil Platform

OC Supervisor Katrina Foley, whose district holds Huntington Beach and Newport Beach, confirmed the information on the Elly at almost 1 a.m. Sunday on Twitter. Officials from the company were present during a Sunday press conference.

Saturday night, Newport Beach City Councilman Will O’Neill posted on Instagram that the spill came from the oil platform Elly, which sits about seven miles offshore from Huntington Beach.

O’Neill said it looked like the spill came from a mechanical issue that may have started on Friday night, but cities were not informed until midday Saturday. 

The rig is run by the Beta Operating Company, a division of Houston based Amplify Energy Corporation. Officials from the company did not respond to Voice of OC requests for comment Saturday night. 

Platform Elly serves as a processing platform for two other oil rigs, Platforms Ellen and Eureka, which are connected to Elly via a set of walkways according to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. Elly and Ellen were installed in 1980, and Eureka was added in 1984. 

During the Sunday press conference officials said that the oil pipeline should be inspected every other year. A date of the last inspection was not made available.

The US Coast Guard is the lead agency responding to the disaster, alongside the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, multiple public safety divisions of Huntington Beach and Newport Beach and other agencies. 

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at or on Twitter @NBiesiada.

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