Saturday, October 23, 2021

Oil spill spreading off California coast, amount unclear

Long Beach, Calif. (WNN) — Some crude oil spilled from a pipeline in Southern California waters is breaking up naturally in ocean currents, a Coast Guard official said Wednesday as officials sought to determine the extent of the damage. .

Coast Guard Petty Officer Steve Strohmeyer said some oil has been pushed south by currents. The storm earlier in the week may also have helped disperse the oil, which he said could make it more challenging to disperse.

“Most of this oil is separating and floating further south,” he said with reporters aboard a boat to the scene of the spill. “The biggest problem is the uncertainty, the amount that has leaked into the water. We are unsure about the total amount leaked at this time.”

It is not clear how much oil leaked. The pipeline operator, Amplify Energy Corp., has publicly estimated a maximum volume of 126,000 gallons (572,807 litres) of heavy crude. But the company told federal investigators with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration that initial measurements put the total at only 29,400 gallons (111,291 liters).

The water and shoreline are still closed in Huntington Beach and many other areas, but people are allowed on the sand. Beachgoers played volleyball on the sands of Huntington Beach on Wednesday morning as walkers and bikers passed by the city’s famous pier. Some oil balls were visible along the shoreline but there was no smell.

Investigators have said the leak may have been caused by a ship’s anchor that bent, dragged and tore an underwater pipeline. Federal officials also found that the pipeline owner did not cease operations quickly after being alerted by a safety system to a potential leak.

“The Coast Guard is looking at a number of factors that can cause a pipe to break, including corrosion, pipe failure or anchor strike,” said Petty Officer Steve Strohmayr, a Coast Guard spokesman. Huh. From our shipping service to see which ships were anchored or moving in the affected area on Friday.”

Questions remained about the timeline of the weekend spill, which eroded beaches and a protected marshland, potentially closing them for weeks along with commercial and recreational fishing in a major hit to the local economy. .

Some reports of a possible leak, the smell of petroleum, and a smattering of oil on Huntington Beach waters came on Friday night, but these were not confirmed and the pipeline’s operator, Amplify Energy Corp., did not report the spill until the next morning. officials said.

An alarm sounded in the company’s control room at 2:30 a.m. on Saturday that the pipeline had lost pressure, indicating a possible leak, but Amplif waited until 6:01 a.m. to shut down the pipeline. , as in accordance with the preliminary findings of an investigation. spread

Investigators said the Houston-based company took three hours to notify the US Coast Guard’s National Response Center to the oil spill, further slowing the response to a crash for which Amplify workers spent years preparing.

Amplify CEO Martin Wilser declined to answer direct questions about the alarm when reporters pressed the issue on Wednesday. He reiterated his claim that the company did not know about the spill until a boat noticed a glow on the water at 8:09 am.

“We’re doing a thorough investigation to see if that’s something that should have been noticed,” Wilser said, adding, “I’m not sure if there was any significant damage under pressure.”

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He said the pipeline had already been shut down by 6 a.m. Saturday, then restarted for five minutes for “meter readings” before shutting down again. Wilser did not specify when and why it was initially closed.

The company’s spill-response plan calls for immediate notification of spills. Criminal charges have been brought in the past when a company took too long to notify federal and state officials about the spill.

On Tuesday, federal transportation investigators said the pipe had opened at a depth of about 98 feet (30 meters) and a nearly one-mile-long section had been pulled along the ocean floor, possibly by a ship’s anchor that slammed it and caused a partial tear. cause, federal transportation investigators said.

“The pipeline is essentially drawn like a bow string,” Wilser said. “At its widest point, it is 105 feet (32 m) away from where it was.”

More about the California oil spill

Huge cargo ships regularly pass over the pipeline as they make their way to the sprawling Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex. They are given the coordinates where they anchor until unloaded.

As Steven Brown, a professor of maritime transportation at the State of California, said, anchored cargo ships are prone to constant winds and tides, and an improperly set anchor weighing 10 tons (9 metric tons) or more “whatever.” anchor goes bad”. University Maritime Academy.

There was no indication whether investigators suspected a particular ship was involved.

“We’re going to make sure we have an answer to how it happened, and to make sure we hold the responsible party accountable,” said Congresswoman Katie Porter, a Democrat who serves on the House Natural Resources Committee. Chairs the monitoring and investigation subcommittee. . She represents the district a few miles inland from the spill area.

The animal rescue team is pleasantly surprised to see some birds covered in oil.

During the two-hour boat trip from Huntington Beach beach, an WNN video journalist saw no visible oil. Pelicans and other seabirds swam on the calm waters, and four dolphins swam from the boat.

Meanwhile, Coast Guard officials defended their decision to wait until Saturday morning to investigate a possible spill first reported on Friday night – about 10 hours earlier – from a raft of boats docked off Huntington Beach. near the group.

At 2:06 a.m. Saturday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said satellite images showed strong potential for oil spills. The report was given to the National Response Center, a dangerous spill hotline operated by the Coast Guard.

Residents of nearby Newport Beach also complained about the strong smell of petroleum on Friday evening, and police served notices to the public about it.

The Coast Guard was alerted to a glow on the water by a “Good Samaritan”, but did not have sufficient corroborating evidence and was hampered by darkness and a lack of technology to seek spills, Coast Guard Rear Admiral Bryan Penauer told the Associated Press.

Pennoyer said it is quite common to receive reports of oil spills in a major port.

“After all, it seems obvious, but they didn’t know at the time,” Penauer said.

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Associated Press writers Michael Blood and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles, Kathleen Ronne in Sacramento, Michael Bisker in Washington and Eugene Garcia and Amy Taxin in Huntington Beach, Calif., contributed to this report.

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