HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. (AP) – Richard Beach stayed out of the ocean for several days after an undersea pipeline leaked crude into the waters off Southern California, sending out an odor smelly on the shore.
A week later, the ocean was still closed to swimming and surfing. But that didn’t stop the 69-year-old from hitting the waves at Huntington Beach on Sunday with his bodyboard – until jet ski rescuers chased him away. He walked across the beach, passing workers in hazmat suits tasked with cleaning the sand from the sticky black spots that washed up on the shore after the spill.
âThe water is perfect,â Beach said. “Back off all the way to the bottom.”
Huntington Beach and neighboring coastal communities are still reeling from last week’s spill which officials said sent at least about 25,000 gallons (95,000 liters) and no more than 132,000 gallons (500,000 liters) of oil in the ocean. It was caused by a leak about five miles off a pipeline owned by Houston-based Amplify Energy, which carries crude from offshore oil rigs to the coast.
The spill was confirmed on October 2, a day after residents reported smelling petroleum in the area. The case is under investigation and officials said they believed the pipeline was likely damaged by a ship’s anchor several months to a year before it ruptured. It is still unclear when the thin 13-inch (33-centimeter) crack in the pipeline started to leak oil.
On Sunday there was no smell of oil and the sand looked largely clear near the pier at Huntington Beach, where workers combed the sand for tar. But local authorities are concerned about the environmental impact of the spill on wetlands, wildlife and the economy. With the ocean out of bounds in the community known as Surf City USA, relatively few people were at the beach and the shops that cater to them suffered.
Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr said she hopes to reopen the ocean within weeks in the city of 200,000. But authorities are testing the water to make sure it’s safe before people are allowed to reenter. Popular surfing and swimming spots at Newport Beach and Laguna Beach are also closed, and further south the water is open but signs warning people of the spill.
In Huntington Beach, shops selling everything from star and stripe bikinis and boogie boards to sand toys and fishing gear, are taking a beating. Marian Johnson, owner of “Let’s Go Fishing” on the pier, said sales had halved since the spill.
Mike Ali, owner of neighboring Zack’s store, said he understood the reason for the water shutdown, but had had to close three of his four stores and cut his employees’ hours. People come to pick up bike rentals and food at his only store that remains open, but without surf lessons, event catering and beach bonfires, business has dropped 90%, he said. he declares.
“It could take a year to two years for tourism to return,” Ali said, adding that a 1990 oil spill had ended up diverting potential visitors to the beaches to the south and north of the city.
Rich Toro, 70, still made his regular 25-mile (40-kilometer) bike ride to Huntington Beach on Sunday. But he said he would not be running to get back in the water in light of the spill and was concerned about the impact on wildlife. Since the incident, authorities have reported 26 dead birds and eight dead fish, while 24 oiled birds have been recovered and are being processed.
But the closures haven’t stopped everyone. In Huntington Beach, a handful of early morning surfers were kicked out of the water by lifeguards. And while fishing is prohibited along the shores of almost all of Orange County, Michael Archouletta, 29, said he came down from east Los Angeles and hadn’t seen no sign on the pier preventing him from dropping a line. A school of fish was swimming under the nearby pier.
âIf it was so dangerous, the fish would have died,â Archouletta said.