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Major oil spill reaches Southern California coast

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Today crews are working to contain the damage from a massive oil spill off the coast of Southern California, and a lawmaker is asking the president to declare a major disaster in the area where the oil is threatening wildlife. Sharon McNary from member station KPCC in Los Angeles reports.

SHARON MCNARY, BYLINE: People first noticed a smell on Friday. On Saturday, as more than a million people came to Huntington Beach to view the Pacific Airshow, the smell grew stronger. By Sunday, the leak had grown to some 3,000 barrels of oil.

Coast Guard site coordinator Rebecca Ore (ph).

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REBECCA ORE: There was a discharge of oil - of heavy crude oil that took place about 4 1/2 miles off the coast of Huntington Beach and Newport Beach. It's created a very large sheen. That sheen is approaching our pristine California beaches.

MCNARY: The oil sheen on the ocean water measured 13 square miles. The Coast Guard placed floating booms across the opening of some wetlands in a marsh, but the oil got past them. It flowed in great globs into a fragile area that's home to birds and other coastal wildlife. Volunteers wearing white protective suits came from bird rescue groups. They're gathering up oil-soaked birds to clean their feathers and, if they survive, to release them back to the wild. The spill may have come from a pipeline connecting a trio of oil rigs in federal waters off Huntington Beach. Miyoko Sakashita of the Center for Biological Diversity says aging oil platforms are far too prone to leaks.

MIYOKO SAKASHITA: There should be federal action to stop and decommission all these platforms off of California. They're all just a ticking time bomb.

MCNARY: California's oil riches have been a financial boon for cities and the state over the past century, but major oil spills have also occurred, including one off Santa Barbara in 1969 which animated the nation's environmental movement. The Coast Guard is leading the cleanup and investigating the cause of the spill.

For NPR News, I'm Sharon McNary in Los Angeles.

(SOUNDBITE OF ...OF SINKING SHIPS' "IT'S EASIER WITH NO DESTINATION") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.