Since news first broke of an oil spill off the coast of Huntington Beach, there have been a series of gaps in the timeline and questions about who knew what when.

But four days into the disaster, a clearer image is emerging of what caused the dumping of as much as 144,000 gallons of oil into the ocean less than five miles off the Orange County coast.

When did the spill start? 

For the first three days of the spill, the Coast Guard and all other involved agencies insisted the first report of oil in local waters came in on Saturday morning at 9:17, at which point they started their response. 

But state records tell a different story. 

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

A report from the National Response Center, which is staffed 24 hours a day by the US Coast Guard according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s website, sent a report to California state officials about the first oil sighting late Friday. 

The report said a caller found an “unknown sheen from an unknown source,” on the Pacific Ocean a few miles off the coast of Huntington Beach. The exact time of the report was unavailable, only identified as Oct. 1st, 2022.

Newport Beach residents also called local authorities to report a strong gas smell in the city on Friday night, with enough attention that the Newport Beach Police Department issued a notice they were aware of the issue at 7:43 p.m. 

The next report at 9:17 a.m. Saturday indicated a similar sheen in the same area. By noon, the Coast Guard had confirmed on Twitter they were responding to the leak, which at that time was roughly 13 square miles in size and three miles off the coast. 

It appears that many local officials were unaware of the spill’s existence until that time. 

One local official, Newport Beach Mayor Brad Avery actually found out about the spill as he drove his boat through it on his way back from Catalina. 

By 3:24 Sunday afternoon, officials still thought it could be a small leak. The Newport Beach City account tweeted that the leak was “expected to dissipate through wind, sun and wave action and is not expected to come ashore.” 

By 9:00 p.m Newport had completely reversed their stance, saying the oil was going to hit the shoreline overnight. Instead of closing the beach entirely, the city issued an advisory about the oil in the water, leaving the shoreline and harbor open to visitors. 

By Tuesday morning, Orange County supervisors were asking questions about the gaps in altering local authorities, continuing to raise concerns about the system for alerting local communities to dangers from off shore drilling rigs. 

The Timeline


  • Residents near the coast first detect the smell of oil in the area on Friday night. Newport Beach PD issues an advisory at 7:43 p.m. 
  • The exact time of the report was unavailable, only identified as Oct. 1st, 2022. To view the full posting, click here
    • But the Coast Guard says their first report didn’t come until Saturday at 9:17 a.m., when they received a second report of an unknown sheen near the same area, with the oil headed toward Laguna Beach according to the report
  • No response was dispatched, with Coast Guard saying they were unaware of the spill until the next day despite this report rolling in from one of their subsidiaries. 


  • At 9:10 a.m. on Saturday morning, the US Coast Guard received the first report of oil in the water off the coast of Newport Beach. 
    • Just over three hours later at 12:18 p.m., the Coast Guard said it was “responding to an oil slick reported to be approximately 13 square miles in size, 3 miles off Newport Beach.” 
  • Around noon, Newport Beach Mayor Brad Avery said he was driving back from Catalina with his family when they hit the oil slick out on the water coming into the city. “We had dolphins on the bow and we went into a slick.” 
  • Also around that same time, Michelle Anderson, director of the OC Sheriff’s Department Emergency Management Division, said she was notified of the spill by the state officials.
  • At 3:24 that afternoon, the City of Newport Beach posted on multiple accounts the spill would be contained and not reach city shores. 
  • At 7:21 p.m. Huntington Beach announced they were closing the ocean from the pier to the Santa Ana River.
  • By 9:00 p.m., Newport admitted the coast would be impacted and that oil was expected to come ashore that night. Did not close the beach or harbor, but issued an advisory about the water. 


  • At 12:58 a.m. on Sunday, Huntington Beach officially cancelled Day Three of the Pacific Airshow, announcing the first estimate of 126,000 gallons and saying preliminary patching had been completed along the pipeline. 
  • At some point overnight, Amplify Energy, the pipeline’s operator, shutdown the flow of crude oil to the affected area in an effort to cut off any further leak. 
  • Oil washed onto the beach sometime late Saturday, early Sunday morning.



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