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.