Officials: California oil pipeline split, apparently elongated


The pipeline, which spilled tens of thousands of gallons of oil into the water off southern California, was ripped open and appears to be dragged across the ocean floor, authorities said Tuesday.

Coast Guard Captain Rebecca Ore said divers noted that approximately 4,000 feet of the pipeline had been “shifted” about 105 feet. She didn’t say what might have caused the movement.

In addition, the pipeline had a 13-inch kerf, Ore said.

The head of the company that operates the line said the pipe had been moved in “almost a semicircle”.

“The pipeline was essentially drawn like a bowstring. And so, at its widest point, it is 105 feet from its location, ”said Martyn Willsher, CEO of Amplify, at a press conference.

Officials said Monday they are considering whether a ship’s anchor could have caused the oil spill that has polluted Orange County’s beaches. There was no confirmation on Tuesday that the leak was caused by an anchor.

The Coast Guard did not investigate the first reports of an oil spill for nearly 12 hours because of insufficient corroborating evidence and being hampered by darkness and lack of technology, an official told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Rear Admiral Brian Penoyer admitted that the Coast Guard had been alerted Friday night by a “good Samaritan” that the water was shiny. Penoyer initially said the Coast Guard had sent a broadcast to the many cargo and tankers and oil rigs anchored off the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach for more information, but received no response.

At a press conference later, Ore denied this, saying the Coast Guard had not sent any information to any ships or oil rigs.

Penoyer said it was common to get reports of a shine near a busy seaport. It would take more than 12 hours for an oil pipeline company to report a spill of up to 126,000 gallons of heavy crude.

“In retrospect, it seems obvious, but they didn’t know that at the time,” said Penoyer. “To be able to empathize with what you knew is a completely normal process.”

Two early calls regarding the spillage were made to the National Response Center, which is manned by the Coast Guard and notifying other authorities of disasters for a quick response. The first was from a ship anchored and noticed a sheen on the water. The second came six hours later from a federal agency that found a possible oil spill on satellite imagery, according to reports from the California Bureau of Emergency Services.

The spill sent up to 126,000 gallons of heavy crude oil off Huntington Beach, which was then washed onto miles of beaches and protected marshland. The beaches could be closed for weeks or more, a big blow to the local economy. Inshore fishing in the area is closed to commercial and recreational fishing.

Federal and state authorities require a quick notification of an exit. Failure to do so has resulted in criminal prosecutions by companies including Plains All American Pipeline, which caused a coastal disaster near Santa Barbara in 2015, and Southern California Gas Co. for a massive wellbore later that year.

Orange County supervisor Katrina Foley raised concerns the company may withhold evidence. But the county emergency manager Michelle Anderson assured the board on Tuesday that the Coast Guard was also on site to ensure the probe is independent.

“It is an investigation with objective parties so that we can ultimately find out the result,” said Anderson.

Cargo ships entering the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach routinely pass through the area. The ports have been plagued by backwater in recent months, and several dozen or more of the giant ships are regularly anchored while waiting to enter and unload.

A 2016 spill response plan for the Amplify platforms presented to federal regulators called for immediate notification to federal officials if more than a barrel of oil spills into the water. Spills of more than five barrels – or threatening state waters or the coastline – require immediate notification of state fire marshal and California wildlife authorities.

The pipeline was to be monitored by an automated leak detection system that reported problems to a 24/7 control room on the oil rig known as Elly.

The system has been designed to trigger an alarm whenever a change in oil flow is detected. However, it was expected that the rate at which these changes could be detected would vary depending on the size of the leak. For a large leak – 10% or more of the amount of oil flowing through the pipeline – the detection time was estimated to be five minutes. Smaller leaks were expected to take up to 50 minutes to detect, according to the response plan.

The Spill Plan warned that a break in the pipeline could cause “significant damage to the environment” and that in the worst case scenario, 3,111 barrels of oil could be released from the pipeline.

Willsher said the required authorities were notified “immediately” when the company realized the leak was from his pipe. Records show that the exit was not reported by Amplify Energy but by Witt O’Brien’s, a crisis and emergency management company listed in the emergency plan as the point of contact for notifying the NRC.

The report said the leaking pipe had been shut off, but containment was not confirmed.

Potential criminal investigations are being pursued by the Orange County District Attorney, the US Department of Justice, the Coast Guard and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, officials said.

Safety advocates have been pushing federal regulations for years that tighten requirements for oil spill detection and force companies to install valves that can automatically shut off the flow of crude oil in the event of a leak. The oil and pipeline industry has resisted these requirements because of the high cost.

Contributors to this report were Associated Press authors Christopher Weber in Los Angeles, Michael Biesecker in Washington, Bernard Condon in New York, and Amy Taxin in Huntington Beach, California.

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