An oil spill in Orange County, originating off the coast of Huntington Beach over the weekend, has released more than 126,000 gallons of crude oil along the O.C. coastline, causing the indefinite closure of beaches and fisheries from Sunset Beach to Dana Point.

A criminal investigation is also underway, according to Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer.

Signs of the oil spill grew more apparent Monday as the aquatic oil slick reached Laguna Beach.

On Monday, Oct. 4, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife issued a statement, emphasizing that fish and shellfish caught within the area could likely cause a public health threat.

While the cause of the oil spill is currently under investigation, Beta Offshore, a floating oil production platform owned by the Houston, Texas-based independent oil and natural gas company, Amplify Energy Corp., may be responsible.

On Monday, Amplify Energy Corp. issued a statement regarding the oil spill. In the release, Amplify noted that Beta Offshore reported the appearance of an “oil sheen” less than fives off the coast, on Saturday, Oct. 2, which prompted the shutdown of Beta’s pipeline operations.

“On Saturday, October 2, 2021, Beta Offshore (a subsidiary of Amplify Energy) first observed and notified the US Coast Guard of an oil sheen approximately four (4) miles off the coast in Southern California and initiated its Oil Spill Prevention and Response Plan,” the statement read.

Amplify indicated that it intends to work with California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the U.S. Coast Guard in the investigations to determine the cause.  

As of Monday, Oct. 4, the oil spill had reached Laguna Beach and was estimated to have expanded to more than a dozen miles in length.

Eric Laughlin, a public information officer involved in the investigation for the CDFW, explained that there are ongoing investigations at multiple levels, with the U.S. Coast Guard conducting a federal investigation, and CDFW conducting a state investigation.

Laughlin added that an inspection of the oil pipeline will most likely be required.

“There is a total, full, investigation and once that investigation is complete, Mr. Spitzer’s office will get a full report — this is a criminal case,” Laughlin said. “There is a federal and a state investigation separate from this response.”

During the conference, Spitzer advised the owner of the company not to touch the pipeline under any circumstances, adding that the county knows very little information regarding the coastal oil spill.

“The Orange County District Attorney’s office is deeply concerned about the wildlife impact that has occurred on our shores and the economic impact on our community — and somebody is going to pay for that — criminally or civilly,” he said. “No diver from Mr. Willsher’s company should touch that pipeline.”

In terms of jurisdiction, the district attorney is responsible for all incidents that happen within three miles of the coast line.

“I have local charges that are under investigation for discharging — unlawful discharge of hazardous material into a waterway, the killing of an animal because hazardous material was discharged into a waterway,” he said. “The charges I can bring as a district attorney, if I don’t have the primary location of the spill, are going to be somewhat limited.”

In Irvine, the oil spill has reached as far inland as the Backbay Nature Reserve which borders Newport Beach and Irvine.

On Monday, Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan tweeted out a link for the public to help with supplies.

U.S. Representative Katie Porter also tweeted about the issue, emphasizing that this incident is yet another indication that offshore drilling is dangerous for communities.

“Big Oil’s offshore drilling puts the health of our communities, our local economies, and our planet at risk. Cleaning up this spill is not enough; we need to stop these disasters from happening in the first place,” Porter’s Tweet read, with the hashtag “NoMoreOffshoreDrilling”.

State Senator Dave Min also shared his thoughts on the incident via Twitter. In a series of tweets, Min called the oil spill an “environmental catastrophe” that will have a lasting impact on coastal ecosystems in Orange County. 

This is a developing story.