US investigators are looking into whether a ship’s anchor may have struck a pipeline on the ocean floor after a huge oil slick off California.
The spill released up to 126,000 gallons (573,000 litres) of heavy crude into the ocean off the coast of Huntington Beach.
It then washed up on miles of beaches and a protected marshland, killing fish and birds, polluting wetlands, and forcing beach closures.
Orange County has declared a state of emergency.
The slick was discovered on Saturday morning about five miles (8 kilometres) off the coasts of Huntington Beach and Newport Beach. Beaches on a 15-mile stretch of coastline south of Los Angeles have been closed.
It is thought to be one of the largest oil spills in the state’s recent history.
- EXPLAINER: Why do oil spills keep happening?
According to Martyn Willsher, CEO of Amplify Energy Corp, which owns three offshore platforms, a ship anchor could have struck the pipeline.
According to Captain Rebecca Ore, the US Coast Guard was determining whether one of their anchors could have hit the line. “It’s possible they’d transit through a pipeline,” she said, according to Reuters.
When the spill occurred will also be investigated, according to Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley: “Mariners and others reported seeing a sheen on Friday night.”
On Saturday, Amplify announced that it had ceased operations and shut down its pipeline. Mr. Willsher stated that the pipeline had been suctioned to ensure that no further oil spilled.
Orange County Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency and directed state agencies to “take immediate and aggressive action to clean up and mitigate the effects” of the spill.
According to Reuters, the US Coast Guard deployed 2,050ft (625m) of protective booms to help contain and slow the oil flows, and about 3,150 gallons were recovered on Sunday.
The Deepwater Horizon rig disaster in 2010 caused the deaths of 11 crew and a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
There were also other longer-term impacts on marine life including impaired reproduction, reduced growth, lesions and disease.