Massive oil spill off southern California coast is an 'environmental catastrophe'
A large oil spill off the southern California coast that left beaches strewn with dead fish and birds has been described as an "environmental catastrophe" by the local mayor.
The crude has stopped leaking from the southern California pipeline believed to be the source of the spill, according to the head of the company that owns the facility.
Divers were still trying to determine where and why the leak occurred, but the flow of oil was stopped late Saturday from the line that runs under the ocean off Huntington Beach, said Amplify Energy CEO Martyn Willsher.
The US Coast Guard, working with local and state agencies, flew overhead to assess the spill and had hired contractors to clean it up.
A 'potential ecological disaster'
An estimated 126,000 gallons, or 3,000 barrels, had spread into an oil slick covering about 33 square kilometres of the Pacific Ocean since it was first reported on Saturday morning, said Kim Carr, the mayor of Huntington Beach, at a press conference.
The beachside city, about 40 miles south of Los Angeles, was bearing the brunt of the spill.
Ms Carr, who called the spill a "potential ecological disaster," added, "Our wetlands are being degraded and portions of our coastline are now covered in oil."
She said the oil rig was operated by Beta Offshore, a California subsidiary of Houston-based Amplify Energy Corporation.
"In the coming days and weeks we challenge the responsible parties to do everything possible to rectify this environmental catastrophe," Ms Carr added.
On Sunday, Orange County supervisor Katrina Foley said the oil had infiltrated the Talbert Marsh, a large ecological reserve, causing "significant damage."
A petroleum stench permeated the air throughout the area, she said.
"You get the taste in the mouth just from the vapours in the air," Ms Foley added.
Environmentalists say oil and gas drilling is too dangerous
Oceana, an ocean conservation group, called for an end to offshore oil and gas drilling.
Jacqueline Savitz, Oceana's chief policy officer, said in a statement: "This is just the latest tragedy of the oil industry. It's well past time to prevent future oil spills by permanently protecting our coasts from offshore drilling."
Miyoko Sakashita, director of the Center for Biological Diversity's oceans program, said: "The coastal areas off of Southern California are just really rich for wildlife, a key biodiversity hot spot."
Birds that get oil on their feathers can't fly, can't clean themselves and can't monitor their own temperatures, she said.
Whales, dolphins and other sea creatures can have trouble breathing or die after swimming through oil or breathing in toxic fumes, she said.
"The oil spill just shows how dirty and dangerous oil drilling is and oil that gets into the water," she added.
"It's impossible to clean it up so it ends up washing up on our beaches and people come into contact with it and wildlife comes in contact with it," Ms Sakashita said.
"It has long-lasting effects on the breeding and reproduction of animals. It's really sad to see this broad swatch oiled."
Beaches were closed to swimming and a local air show was cancelled, although some people were undeterred from setting up chairs on the beach to enjoy a sunny Sunday or strolling along the pier.
© Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.