Huntington Beach, Calif. (AP) — Officials investigating one of California’s largest oil spills are investigating whether a ship’s anchor may have hit a pipeline on the ocean floor, causing crude oil spills into coastal waters and contaminated beaches. There could be a major leak, officials said on Monday. .
The head of the company operating the pipeline said company divers were inspecting the area of the suspected leak, and within a day they had a better idea of what caused the damage.
Amplify Energy CEO Martin Wilsher told a news conference that an anchor hitting the pipeline is “one of the typical possibilities” behind the leak. He said divers had examined the pipe more than 8,000 feet (2,438 m) and were focusing on “an area of significant interest”.
Coast Guard officials said cargo ships entering the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach regularly pass through the area.
“We are looking into whether it could have been anchored from a ship, but it is still in the evaluation phase,” Coast Guard lieutenant commander. Jenny Shay said.
126,000 gallons (572,807 litres) of heavy crude was sent into the sea, contaminating the sands of the famous Huntington Beach and other coastal communities. The spill could keep beaches closed for weeks or longer.
Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said he has investigators looking to see if he can bring state charges for the spill. Spitzer said his jurisdiction ends at 3 miles.
Spitzer also said that Amplify’s divers should not be allowed near the pipeline without an independent authorization accompanying them.
Other possible criminal investigations are being conducted by the US Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, the Coast Guard and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, officials said.
Safety advocates have pushed for years for federal regulations that would strengthen oil spill detection requirements and force companies to install valves that can automatically shut off the flow of crude oil in case of a leak. . The oil and pipeline industries have resisted such requirements because of the high cost.
“If operators had more valves installed on this line, they would have had a better chance of isolating the point of failure by now,” said Bill Carrom with the Pipeline Safety Trust, an organization based in Bellingham, Washington.
According to a regulatory filing from the company, the pipeline was constructed using a process known as electrical resistance weld. According to Bill Carrom, government safety advice and director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, the welding process has been linked to past oil pipeline failures because corrosion can occur rapidly.
Environmentalists feared the oil could devastate birds and marine life in the area. But Michael Zicardi, a veterinarian and director of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, said so far only four oily birds have been found. He said one suffered chronic injuries and had to be euthanized.
“It’s a lot better than we thought,” he told a news conference on Monday.
Zicardi said he is “cautiously optimistic” but it is too soon to know the extent of the spill’s impact on wildlife. In other offshore oil rigs, the largest number of oil-fed birds have been collected two to five days after the incident, he said.
Amplify operates three oil platforms approximately 9 miles (14.5 kilometers) off the coast of California, all installed between 1980 and 1984. The company also operates a 16-inch pipeline that moves oil from a processing platform to an onshore storage facility in Long Beach. The company said the oil is coming from a rupture in that pipeline about 4 miles (6.44 kilometers) from the platform.
In a 2016 spill-response plan submitted to federal regulators, the company said its worst-case spill scenario was based on the assumption of a “full guillotine cut” of a pipeline that would be 3 miles inland from one of its platforms. But an outside consultant concluded that a spill of that size at that location was “very unlikely” because the line is 120 feet deep and under a shipping lane where ships do not normally anchor.
The Beta oil field has been owned by at least seven different corporations since it was discovered by Royal Dutch Shell in 1976, records show. A corporate predecessor of Amplify bought the operation in 2012.
The Amplify subsidiary, known as a beta operating company since 1980, has been cited 125 times for safety and environmental violations, according to a database from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, the federal agency that controls the offshore oil and gas industry. has gone. The online database only provides the total number of breaches, not the details of each incident.
The company was fined a total of $85,000 for the three incidents. Two were from 2014, when an employee who was not wearing proper protective equipment was shocked by 98,000 volts of electricity. The worker survived. In a separate incident, crude oil was released through a boom where a safety device was improperly bypassed.
In 1999, two leaks from a 1.8-mile underwater pipeline running between the two platforms, containing at least 3,800 gallons of oil, washed away tar balls on beaches in Orange County.
The cause of the leak was determined to be corrosion which caused pin-shaped holes in the steel walls of the pipeline. A partnership between Mobil Oil Corp and Shell Oil Co., the owner of the oil field at the time, called Aira Energy LLC, was fined $48,000 by federal regulators — a penalty environmental groups hailed as a slap on the wrist. criticized.
Before the spill, Amplify had high hopes for the Beta oil field and was pouring millions of dollars into upgrades and new “side track” projects that would later tap into the oil by drilling.
“We have the opportunity to keep going for as long as we want,” Wilser said at an August conference call with investors. He said the capacity was “up to 20,000 barrels a day”.
Investors shared Wilser’s optimism, with the company’s stock rising more than seven times from the start of the year to $5.75 at the end of trading Friday. The stock fell more than 40% in morning trading on Monday.
The company filed for bankruptcy in 2017 and came out a few months later. It was using cash generated by Beta Region and others in Oklahoma and Texas to pay off $235 million in debt.
Associated Press writers Michael Bisecker in Washington, Bernard Condon in New York, Felicia Fonseca in Phoenix, Julie Walker in New York, Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana, and Stephanie Dizzio in Huntington Beach, California, contributed to this report.