California Airshow Cancels Sunday Performances Due To Oil Slick


A massive oil spill off the coast of Orange County, California, over the weekend prompted officials to cancel Sunday performances of the popular three-day Pacific Airshow. Largely free to the public, the annual show featured the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, the Air Force Thunderbirds and the Canadian Snowbirds demonstration teams, along with a host of other performers. Spectators typically gather on Huntington Beach or watch from boats anchored offshore. But by Sunday morning, the spill had clogged Huntington and Newport Beaches with a sticky coating of crude oil, endangering wildlife, mostly birds.

Newport Beach Mayor Brad Avery was on his way to the airshow Saturday morning, sailing his own boat from Avalon about 11:30 a.m., when he noticed oil in the water. He said other boaters had also spotted the slick and broadcast the news over marine radio frequencies.

“As we got within about five miles of the coastline all of the sudden, we were going through this major oil slick,” he told the Los Angeles Times.

According to the Times story, Eric Laughlin, a spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, warned, “Members of the public should avoid the oiled shoreline, as the area is unsafe.”

The spill originated from a 17.5-mile underwater pipeline running from the Elly offshore oil platform. Before the flow of oil was shut off sometime Sunday afternoon, at least 126,000 gallons of crude had created an 8,320-acre slick, according to the paper. Oil from the spill also seeped into the 25-acre Talbert Marsh ecological reserve in Huntington Beach.

Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley said, “It’s a huge environmental impact and it’s an economic impact both in terms of the cleanup and shutting down a major tourist destination during a pandemic when we’ve all been struggling. It’s a tragedy on all fronts.”

According to a 2019 economic impact report, the annual event generates about $68.1 million in spending and $3.4 million in additional tourism-related revenue.

Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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  1. I love California, even with its numerous problems, and I’m saddened to hear about the oil slick. I’m sure it will be fixed and cleaned up, although that won’t help the animals and people already harmed or impacted by it.

    With that said, why cancel the airshow? Its what people need right now. Governmental reaction to Covid causes so much trouble for so many people. Maybe just let them be happy for a little while and watch an airshow?

  2. One heck of an airshow. An all day schedule of flying, very impressive and lots of footage from Saturday on Youtube including Thundersbirds, Blues, Snowbirds and many other military and civilian performers. Fantastic entertainment for a rainy day.

  3. It now appears that a ship’s anchor dragged and cracked the pipeline, which is not the fault of the pipeline owner. But it also appears that they had indications of the leak long before they shut things down, which is their fault.

  4. Oh but it is, Richard. Anyone laying over seventeen miles of pipeline on the sea floor across a busy shipping, fishing, and recreational channel along the LA shoreline, should expect that it could be hit by any number of things. These days, container ships are being parked in that area until the docks can accommodate them. Apparently the fears raised by many over the siting of an oil rig pipeline that close to a major shipping port have come true.

    That’s why the FAA has to approve a tower over a certain height within a certain distance of major airports. At some point, someone is going to hit it.

  5. Makes sense about the beaches.

    Terrible tragedy, and it seems like it could have been prevented and/or mitigated if not for poor performance/planning on the part of certain involved individuals.

    Even if much money is spent/lost over this situation, it won’t help the wildlife or the beautiful California shoreline.

  6. If much of the crowd watches from boats and the beach, then the mess and potential hazards probably justify the action. Having said that, oil is both variably volatile and organic and what does not evaporate is reasonably rapidly decomposed by microbes. CA has a history of natural shoreline oil seeps that are largely controlled and managed by the same entities that are being blamed here. Listen folks, there is no free lunch. You all want to fill your tanks with aviation fuel and it has to come from somewhere. Land and undersea pipelines are constantly being damaged by human errors, just like this one, and it could be the straw that breaks the environmental camel’s back in CA that is the largest petroleum market in the US, and filled with the most environmental lunatics as well. These are the same people who complain that CA’s fuel prices are very high and higher than anywhere else in the US. Most of us require access to various petroleum products and have no recourse or power in addressing the issues. We are hostages but some of us know that we absolutely require petroleum pipelines and are willing to deal with the risks. More avian wildlife is killed by windmills than the occasional oil spill.

    • Dale expresses the voice of reason on this subject, something sadly absent in most discussions these days.
      The universe is not stark black & white, everything is rendered in shades of gray. No matter what technique we use to convert & employ energy there are trade-offs, yet we persist in pretending the latest socially approved technique is not just better but is the be all – end all solution. Witness the rush to convert every energy requirement to electricity, but without actually resolving how all that electricity is going to be supplied on a reliable and affordable 24/7/365 basis.