Dead sea snails that washed onshore in Seal Beach indicate that an oil spill caused by a leaking pipeline may be more serious than originally thought, officials said Thursday.
Curt Taucher, a spokesman for the state Department of Fish and Game said the snails, which are not an endangered species, were the only sea life affected so far.
But, he added, crude oil "can stick to the feathers of birds. And with abalones and sea snails, it acts as a hindrance to their mucous membranes.
"We probably won't have clear evidence until Friday, but it looks like around four or five miles (of ocean) have been affected," he said.
Beaches from Anaheim Bay to Belmont Pier in Long Beach, which were closed Wednesday, were expected to be opened today.
The Exxon Co. pipeline, which ruptured 100 yards offshore, extends from a drilling and production facility on Belmont Island, 1 1/2 miles southwest of the Seal Beach pier, to a processing plant in Seal Beach. The leak, at the base of the 20-year-old platform, was spotted by a resident Wednesday morning.
Authorities had said Wednesday that the spill appeared to present no danger to wildlife or the environment. But on Thursday, Steven Wong, Orange County environmental assistant health director, said the oil may have caused environmental problems.
"We have not received any confirmations on it yet, but it is still something we have to determine," he said.
Exxon called in a marine biologist Thursday to examine the situation, company spokeswoman Carrie Chassin said.
The company estimated that about 420 gallons of oil mixed with sea water leaked from the pipeline. But only 125 gallons of that was crude oil, said Vern Gaede of the oil and gas division of the state Department of Conservation.
Gaede said the spill was minor, and "really just created a hell of a sheen."
"We inspected that pipeline on April 8 and everything was fine," he said.