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Huntington Beach.(Photo: huntingtonbeachca.gov)

Orange County Beaches Open Sooner Than Expected Monday Following Oil Spill

Testing for oil toxins in water expected to continue for several more months

By Evan Symon, October 11, 2021 11:16 am

The beaches in and around Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, and Laguna Beach in Northern Orange County California reopened Monday following over a week of being closed off to the public due to the oil spill last week.

An oil pipeline between oil platforms off the coast of Orange County and the Port of Long Beach was cracked open sometime around October 1st. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, while it is still investigating the cause of the pipeline break, it was likely due to a ships’ anchor striking the pipeline. On October 2nd, initial reports found that the pipeline was leaking, with a full-blown oil spill being announced on October 3rd. Despite the pipeline being shutdown and workers trying to remove as much oil as possible beforehand from the water, around 3,000 barrels, or 126,000 gallons, managed to seep out.

This forced cities to close beaches across Northern Orange County, including the famed Huntington Beach, due to safety concerns, severely hurting the local economy. Officials even estimated that beaches would likely be closed for weeks, if not months. The situation was so dire last week that Governor Newsom even declared it a state of emergency.

However, due to the quick actions of officials and crews working to stop the spill, the massive shutdowns and the oil soaked beaches never really formulated, although many associated oil spill signs, such as tar balls washing up on shore, did occur, requiring some beaches to remain closed to the public all last week.

During the weekend, subsequent water testing by state and federal officials found no oil toxins in the water, with no more tar washing up on shore. This greenlit the beach reopening for California State Parks and the cities on Monday.

“Huntington Beach City & State beaches will reopen tomorrow (10/11) at 6am,” the city of Huntington Beach tweeted on Sunday. “The joint decision to reopen comes after ocean water quality testing results showed non-detectable amounts of oil associated toxins in our ocean water.”

Economic, possible political effects of the spill

Businesses in the area breathed a sigh of relief on Monday at the reopenings, as the past week had severely cut into revenue due to the closures.

“Definitely dodged a bullet, although we were still grazed,” said Lorraine Bishop, a local art business owner in Huntington Beach, to the Globe on Monday. “Around the beach and the pier, we heard 40% down, 50% down. For places that cater with the ocean directly, like rentals and lessons, it was closer to 80%, 90% down. No one was happy about this. And there were people from the city who had told us that the beaches could be closed until November too. And it was so odd then coming out of the meeting to see the beach picture perfect yet also empty.”

“We are so happy that this only went on for a week. A lot of us are still coming back from the lockdowns, and we couldn’t afford a long-term shutdown again.”

However, other business owners in the area added that the spill could have more long-term consequences for businesses, as well as political consequences.

“I’m not concerned about us not getting usual traffic for a week,” added Anthony Simpson, a restaurant manager nearby one of the affected beaches, to the Globe on Monday. “We’re now known as the oil spill beach city, so that has more of a long-lasting affect on people coming out. That’s the real worry here.”

“And if you want to look at this from a political standpoint, we now have people angry at the oil drilling offshore now, as well as a lot of businesses angry at these beach shutdowns. It’s an election year next year, and businesses like ours, who can’t take any more hits, are really going to challenge our Congressmen and state leaders over this. We lucked out this time. If an Exxon Valdez happens next time and really does bring long-term closures, we won’t survive. Pure and simple.”

While beaches reopened on Monday, testing is expected to continue for the next few months to make sure that the area continues to have acceptable water cleanliness levels.

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Evan Symon
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