Huntington Beach Slick May Have Been From a Natural Seep

Slick off Huntington Beach
Image courtesy USCG

Published Mar 11, 2024 9:25 PM by The Maritime Executive


The U.S. Coast Guard has concluded its response to a large oil sheen off the coast of Orange County, California, and the cause remains unknown. The area is home to natural oil seeps, and it is possible that the crude leaked out of the seabed on its own, though the event remains under investigation.

On Friday, the agency detected a 2.5-mile slick off Huntington Beach, an area known for its beaches and surfing spots. Response crews recovered about 85 gallons of oil from the water and about 1,000 pounds of oiled waste from the shore. 

Testing of samples from the slick revealed that the substance was lightly weathered crude oil, of Californian origin. The oil's chemical fingerprint did not line up with the characteristics of oil from nearby production platforms. It was also quite fresh, which is typical of natural seeps, according to the Coast Guard. The agency has no reports of any platform spill that might be related (though a small release of produced water did occur in the region at about the same time). 

The outcome of the oil release appears to be mild: beaches and fisheries remain open, public health appears unaffected, and three oiled birds were spotted and rescued for treatment.

"In the face of this environmental challenge, the strength of our partnerships has once again proven to be our greatest asset. The Coast Guard, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife's, Office of Spill Prevention and Response, and our local Orange County agencies and departments mobilized swiftly to mitigate the impact of the oil sheen off Huntington Beach," said Capt. Ryan Manning, the federal on-scene coordinator for the response. 

The response command believes that this was a one-time event, but the local lifeguard organization will watch for any signs of recurrence.