Ribbons of oil from the massive spill off the coast of Huntington Beach are making their way south towards San Diego County beaches, prompting county officials to take preventative measures to protect local habitats and resources.
“Right now there is no immediate threat to San Diego County, but our team is prepared for the possibility of oil making its way towards our watersheds, onto our beaches, and affecting local fish, wildlife and ecosystems,” the San Diego County Office of Emergency Services (OES) said in a statement.
One of the largest oil spills in recent history sent tens of thousands of gallons of oil from a leaking underwater pipeline into the Pacific Ocean over the weekend. Since, hundreds of crew members and volunteers have been working to contain the spill.
About 4,875 gallons of crude oil have been recovered so far.
The oil spill response team’s Unified Command — made up of representatives from the U.S. Coast Guard, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and the Oiled Wildlife are Network — said Wednesday the oil slick was moving south but they are not yet sure how far south the oil has spread.
Volunteers were surveying areas from North Bolsa Chica State Beach to San Onofre to check for any affected wildlife, the unified command said. The volunteers are looking for oil sheens or tar balls, which wash up on the shore.
The OES said their team is in contact with state and federal officials to determine the spill’s possible impact on San Diego County and protective measures have already been put into place. A protective boom is cordoning off the mouth of the Santa Margarita River near Camp Pendleton north of Oceanside.
“The Unified Command maintains detailed contingency plans to meet the evolving situation and the agencies are collaborating to jointly implement these plans as needed,” the OES said.
Nearby, the Carlsbad Desalination Plant, which provides about 50 million gallons of drinking water a day to people in San Diego County, said they have not yet been affected by the oil spill, according to a joint statement from the San Diego County Water Authority and Poseidon Water, which operate the plant.
The facility monitors the concentration of oil to water and will shut down if the hydrocarbon concentration of source seawater reaches 300 parts per billion, the agencies said.
The plant was also working with local, state and federal agencies to determine if preemptive measures, like the installation of a floating boom at the mouth of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon, were necessary.
“That would protect the lagoon for marine life and ensure the desalination plant can stay online, which minimizes the San Diego region’s demands on other water resources,” the joint statement said.
The OES asked any San Diego COunty residents who see evidence of oil to contact 1-877-823-6926.
The spill was likely due to a pipeline leak from a facility offshore operated by Beta Offshore about five miles off the Orange County coast, officials said. The Coast Guard said there appeared to be a 13-inch split in the pipe — the likely source of the leak which may have been caused by an anchor of a ship, though that is still being investigated.
More than 350 crew members and more than a dozen boats, plus aerial response teams, are taking part in the recovery effort. On Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in Orange County to assist the response.
The leak likely began late Friday or early Saturday with oil appearing on the shoreline of Huntington Beach on Saturday.
About a dozen birds have been recovered alive with oiled feathers and two have been found dead, according to the Oiled Wildlife Care Network.
Oil is harmful to wildlife, but birds are of particular concerns. Oil on their feathers prevents them from flying. They also can’t clean themselves and or monitor their own temperatures. Whales, dolphins and other sea creatures can have trouble breathing or die after swimming through oil or breathing in toxic fumes.
The California Department of Fish & Wildlife set up the Oiled Wildlife Care Network hotline, at 877-823-6926, for people to call if they see wildlife impacted from the oil.
Read More: California Oil Spill Moving Towards San Diego County – NBC 7 San Diego