HUNTINGTON BEACH — Richard Beach stayed clear of the ocean for several days after an undersea pipeline leaked crude into the waters off Southern California, sending a foul smell across the shore.
A week later, the ocean remained off limits to swimming and surfing. But that didn’t stop the 69-year-old from returning to the waves in Huntington Beach, on Sunday, with his bodyboard — until lifeguards on jet skis chased him out. He trekked back across the beach, passing workers in hazmat suits tasked with clearing the sand of sticky, black blobs that washed ashore after the spill.
“The water’s perfect,” Beach said. “Clear all the way to the bottom.”
Huntington Beach and nearby coastal communities are still reeling from last week’s spill that officials said sent at least about 25,000 gallons and no more than 132,000 gallons of oil into the ocean. It was caused by a leak about five miles offshore in a pipeline owned by Houston-based Amplify Energy that shuttles crude from offshore oil platforms to the coast.
The spill was confirmed, on Oct 2, a day after residents reported a petroleum smell in the area. The cause is under investigation and officials said they believe the pipeline was likely damaged by a ship’s anchor several months to a year before it ruptured.
On Sunday, there was no smell of oil and the sand looked largely clear by the Huntington Beach pier, where workers combed the sand for tar. But local officials worry about the environmental impact of the spill on wetlands, wildlife and the economy. With the ocean off limits in the community dubbed Surf City USA, relatively few people were at the beach and shops that cater to them have been hurting.
Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr said she hopes to reopen the ocean within weeks in the city of 200,000 people. But officials are testing the water to ensure it’s safe before people are allowed back in. Popular surfing and swimming spots in Newport Beach and Laguna Beach are also closed, and further south the water is open but signs are posted warning people about the spill.