Ship's anchor striking the pipeline is "one of the distinct possibilities" for the cause of a major leak of crude into waters off southern California, says Martyn Willsher, chief of Amplify Energy that operates the pipeline.

Clean-up crews work to mitigate damage in an ecological estuary after a major oil spill off coast of California came ashore in Huntington Beach, California, US, on October 4, 2021.
Clean-up crews work to mitigate damage in an ecological estuary after a major oil spill off coast of California came ashore in Huntington Beach, California, US, on October 4, 2021. (Reuters)

Officials are looking into whether a ship's anchor may have struck an oil pipeline on the ocean floor, causing a major leak of crude into waters off Southern California.

The head of the company that operates the pipeline said on Monday that divers have examined more than 8,000 feet of pipe and are focusing on "one area of significant interest."

Amplify Energy CEO Martyn Willsher said during a news conference that a ship's anchor striking the pipeline is "one of the distinct possibilities" for the cause of the leak.

US Coast Guard officials said that cargo ships entering the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach routinely pass through the area.

"We're looking into if it could have been an anchor from a ship, but that's in the assessment phase right now," said Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Jeannie Shaye of Coast Guard.

The leak reported on Saturday has foulled the sands of famed Huntington Beach and other coastal communities. 

The spill could keep beaches closed for weeks or months.

Meanwhile, California authorities and emergency responders were racing to contain the damage that the city of Huntington Beach described as an "environmental catastrophe."

Popular beaches along a 24 kilometre stretch of coastline south of Los Angeles were closed from Huntington Beach to Laguna Beach, city officials reported as crews scrambled to clean up one of California's biggest spills in decades.

Fishing operations in the area were ordered halted, and wildlife has been killed due to the 480,000-litre spill of post-production crude that began leaking early on Saturday from what officials said is a pipeline connected to an oil rig offshore.

The US Coast Guard coordinating the response said early on Monday that oil amounting to less than three percent of the spill plume – estimated to be 10 kilometres long, had been recovered, and that more than a mile of oil containment booms had been deployed.

"Unfortunately, we are starting to see oil covered fish and birds washing up along our coastline," including in protected wetlands, the City of Huntington Beach said in a statement on Sunday.

The city of around 200,000 people identified the company responsible for the leak as Beta Offshore, a California subsidiary of Houston-based Amplify Energy Corp.

"We will be working to ensure that Amplify Energy Corporation does everything possible to rectify this environmental catastrophe," Huntington Beach said.

Calls for end to offshore oil drilling

Amplify Energy said in a statement on Monday that "as a precautionary measure, all of the company's production and pipeline operations at the Beta Field have been shut down."

The spill prompted US Senator Alex Padilla of California to renew his call for an end to offshore oil drilling.

"We've seen time and time again how damaging offshore oil spills are to our coastal ecosystems as well as to our economy," he tweeted. "We have the power to prevent future spills."

At a press conference on Sunday afternoon, officials warned residents not to touch or try to save any wildlife themselves, but to instead call local authorities to alert them to animals affected by the oil.

"This is just devastating for our marine life, our habitat, our economics, our entire community," Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley said Sunday on MSNBC.

"Our natural habitat we've spent decades building up and creating is just damaged in a day."

The spill originated near the Elly platform, which was built in 1980 and is one of 23 oil and gas drilling platforms in federal waters off California, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Orange County officials warned that the affected beaches could be closed for weeks or months.

"This is why the US needs to end coastal oil drilling," the Times wrote in an editorial.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies