An oil spill is seeping down the coast of Southern California after a pipeline leaked 126,000 gallons of crude oil into the Pacific Ocean.
Images from the shores of Orange County show spills of oil covering seawater and thick layers of tar washing up on beaches.
The leak was first reported Saturday morning when a pipeline owned by Amplify Energy erupted about 8 miles off the coast of Huntington Beach.
The total waste covers about 13 square kilometers.
Officials have closed some of Southern California’s most popular beaches in the cities of Newport Beach, Laguna Beach and Huntington Beach – a community that bears the nickname “Surf City”.
Authorities are investigating the possibility that a cargo ship’s anchor caused the pipeline to burst.
“These ships are anchored and many are waiting to enter the San Pedro Bay Port complex in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. And during transit, it is possible that they would be transporting over pipeline,” the U.S. Coast Guard captain said. Rebecca Ore at a news conference Monday, according to CNN.
Officials expect the oil to continue washing ashore for several days, according to the Los Angeles Times. Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr said beach closures could last weeks or months, the Associated Press reported.
“In a year that has been filled with incredibly challenging issues, this oil spill is one of the most devastating situations our society has dealt with in decades,” Carr said, according to the AP. “We are doing everything we can to protect the health and safety of our residents, our visitors and our natural habitats.”
Oil spills are also ecological disasters, and this is no exception. It often takes days or weeks to determine the extent of a spill’s impact on wildlife. Photos of the area show fish and seabirds moving through multicolored oil spills.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has closed fishing along six miles of shoreline as it is unsafe to eat fish contaminated with crude oil.
Michael Ziccardi, a veterinarian and director of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, said at a news conference on Monday that four oil-covered birds have been found so far. One, a pelican, had to be killed due to the extent of its damage.
“It’s much better than we had feared,” he said, adding that he is “cautiously optimistic” as it is still early in the clean-up effort, according to the AP.
The oil spill has threatened several ecologically sensitive areas, including the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve and Talbert Marsh in Huntington Beach. These wetlands serve as stopping points for migratory birds.
From Monday, cleanup crews deployed booms and skimmers to stem the spill and try to prevent further oil from penetrating Talbert Marsh.