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Oil sheen reported near Southern California spot where pipeline leaked in October

Workers clean a beach contaminated by an oil spill in Huntington Beach, Calif., on Oct. 11. (Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP)

Divers on Saturday morning reported a leak from an oil pipeline that had spilled thousands of gallons near Huntington Beach, Calif., last month, though authorities this weekend did not find evidence of a major breach after hours of searching.

The divers reported a sheen near the damaged pipeline owned by a Houston-based energy company, said Petty Officer Hunter Schnabel, a spokesperson for the U.S. Coast Guard’s 11th District.

“We believe it is linked to it,” Schnabel told The Washington Post.

The Coast Guard and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were investigating the report of a 30-by-70-foot sheen, the source of which has not been determined.

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“As a proactive measure, we have deployed our Police helicopter & our Marine Safety boat to evaluate the surrounding area,” Jennifer Carey, spokesperson for the Huntington Beach police, wrote in a statement to The Post. “At this time, our Fire Department is prepped & on standby to deploy preventative equipment, as necessary.”

But, as of Saturday evening, the investigators had not found the sheen, according to Eric Laughlin, a spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Reports of a possible oil spill emerged about 10 a.m. Pacific time. Divers for Beta Offshore — a division of Amplify Energy and one of the largest oil producers in Southern California — were working in the area and “discovered small droplets” on the pipeline’s sealing layer, Laughlin said. Amplify Energy and Beta Offshore did not immediately respond to requests for comment Saturday night.

The Southern California spill response’s Unified Command — which includes members of the Coast Guard, the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Orange and San Diego counties — immediately deployed pollution crews.

The search was inconclusive, said Petty Officer Richard Brahm, a spokesperson for the Coast Guard, because of the trickiness of finding sheens. Unlike slicks, the surface lusters often disperse in the water because of their relatively small amounts of oil.

“It can be the case that we haven’t found it yet or that it just naturally diffused,” Brahm said. “We’ll keep looking, but if we can’t find it, there’s not much to do about it. But if we were able to find it, we can take samples of it.”

Despite not finding evidence of a sheen, authorities have taken precautionary measures, Brahm said.

“To err on the side of caution, we went ahead and replaced the pipeline’s syntho-glass wrap,” he said, referring to the protective cap that seals the pipe. “Maybe that was the issue, and, if it’s not, we’re going to keep watching. But it was just a possibility.”

The pipeline has been shut down since the first oil spill, Oct. 2, but Saturday’s reports raised concerns about continuing damage. The developing investigation will determine whether the sheen resulted from issues in the pipeline or from a separate source, Laughlin said. Crews will monitor the situation overnight.

The area’s recent history with oil spills prompted a quick response to the sheen, said Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley (D).

“We know from experience that the sooner we react, the quicker we can shut down any potential spread of the oil spill,” she told The Post. “And so we’re reacting. But a big question is, how is this happening? I thought that the oil pipeline was shut down. How is it that this is leaking again?”

State lawmakers discussed the October response in a meeting last week.

More than 120,000 gallons of oil leaked from a rig and into the waters and beaches of Huntington Beach, Calif., on Oct 3. (Video: Storyful)

Although it was not clear Saturday whether the two oil incidents were related, the sheen was seen near the damaged pipeline that last month spilled about 25,000 gallons into the water off Huntington Beach, according to the Associated Press. Officials suspected that a ship anchor may have caused that leak.

Steps taken to address the issue, Foley said, include a state and federal investigation that officials hope will provide answers about possible flaws in the system’s functioning and the factors that led to the spills. A process to address reimbursement claims for October’s spill includes a dozen lawsuits, she said.

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That spill and Saturday’s incident have raised questions about the effects of offshore drilling.

“What we in California know now is that offshore oil drilling is more damaging to our economy than helpful,” Foley said. “So for those who were hanging on to offshore oil drilling as an economic event because of an economic reason, there is no reason. There’s no justification. It’s bad for our coast. It’s bad for the economy and tourism. There’s just so many reasons to do something different.”

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