• According to the U.S. Coast Guard, divers found a leak in the pipe that was more than one foot long. It could have been the cause of the leak, according to investigators.
  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom, the California Governor, declared an Orange County state of emergency late Monday in order to aid clean-up efforts.
  • According to the Coast Guard, it didn’t investigate initial reports about the spillage due to lack of evidence or technology, darkness and lack of corroborating evidence.

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. – The energy company that owns the ruptured pipeline that spewed more than 140,000 gallons of oil into Southern California waters didn’t shutdown the pipeline for more than three hours after being alerted, according to federal regulators. 

In a letter to the company’s president, U.S. Department of Transportation safety regulators wrote that company personnel “received a low-pressure alarm” at 2:30 a.m. Saturday on the pipeline that signaled “possible failure.” It wasn’t until 6 a.m. — more than three hours later — that it was shutdown, the letter states.

The letter was sent to the pipeline operator’s parent company, Amplify Energy Corp., from the department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration — which oversees the pipelines across the country. The letter also notes it took “over six hours” before the company reported the spill to the 24-hour federal National Response Center, the designated federal point of contact for reporting all oil, chemical, radiological, biological and etiological discharges into the environment. 

When a single drop of oil spills in the ocean off the U.S. coast, it must, by law, be immediately reported to the center. 

The letter and findings shed new light on the various investigations underway and raise questions on whether the energy company reacted quickly enough to prevent Southern California’s largest oil spill in decades. They also come as the U.S. Coast Guard determined a possible cause of the spill: A cargo ship’s anchor may have hooked the pipeline, dragging it more than 100 feet and causing a foot-long gash. 

On Friday, a massive oil spillage in California was announced. However, nobody ever told the million of people who went to the beach.

The U.S. Coast Guard said Tuesday divers were able to locate a bend in the 17-mile pipeline and found it had been moved by 105 feet. Coast Guard Capt. Rebecca Ore said divers also located a split in the pipeline that was more than a foot long — 13 inches, which investigators believe could be the source of the oil leak.

Preliminary reports suggest the failure may have been “caused by an anchor that hooked the pipeline, causing a partial tear,” federal transportation investigators said.

According to investigators, the break occurred approximately 5 miles off shore at an approximate depth of 98 feet below the surface. The Department of Transportation included these findings in an order that prevents the company operating the pipeline, without any further inspections or testing.

A ship’s anchor striking a pipeline on the ocean floor is “one of the distinct possibilities” behind the leak, Amplify Energy CEO Martyn Willsher said. 

Dozens of ships have been anchored offshore in recent months due to ports that are plagued by backlogs as COVID-19 and other issues slowed the global supply chain.

“We’re looking into if it could have been an anchor from a ship, but that’s in the assessment phase right now,” Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Jeannie Shaye said.

A few dozen cargo ships were anchored on the coast of Huntington Beach Monday. Investigators are examining whether a ship’s anchor may have struck the pipeline, causing more than 140,000 gallons of oil to spill into the ocean.

About two weeks ago, the backlog of cargo ships off the coast of the Huntington Beach area were waiting to dock at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles — the nation’s two largest ports — broke records. A total of 73 container ships were floating in the waters on Sept. 19 — a new record — waiting to dock at the ports, according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California.

A cleanup crew walk along Huntington Beach looking for spots of oil north of the pier with cargo container ships in the background. More than 125,000 gallons of oil spilled from a pipeline about four miles offshore of Southern California's coast. The spill left a sheen over miles of ocean along the shoreline at Huntington Beach.

A mile-long line of booms was floated by cleanup boats to slow the spread and destruction of the oil spillage, which left black ribbons on the beaches as well as gobs of oil. Dwayne Brady, his small dog Killer and other crew members watched as they battled the spread of the oil.

“You’d think in this day and age a spill that’s this large would have immediately been detected and stopped,” he said, shaking his head. “This shouldn’t have been this bad. No way.”

It was intended that the pipeline would be monitored 24 hours per day by an automated leak detection and control room, which is open seven days a semaine. The system, part of Amplify’s spill response plan, was designed to trigger an alarm whenever a change in the flow of oil is detected. The size of the oil leak will affect how fast the system can detect it.

The detection time for a leakage of 10% or more oil through a pipeline is approximately five minutes. The plan states that smaller leaks may take longer to be detected, and can sometimes take 50 minutes.

The criminal and civil investigations will also seek to pinpoint the source of the leak.

The first emergency call came in Friday at  6:13 p.m., and it wasn’t from Amplify. A ship had noticed a sheen in the water, according to a federal report on the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services spill report website.

Officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration notified the federal response center twice that night of a possible oil spill less than 5 miles off Huntington Beach, according to updates on the California emergency services website.

The Coast Guard addressed questions about the timeline Tuesday and said it did not investigate the initial reports of the oil spill for nearly 12 hours because it didn’t have enough corroborating evidence and was hindered by darkness and a lack of technology.

Capt. Ore stated that the initial reports of oil in water are “very typical for agencies responsible for responding to pollution.” She noted officials started looking into the reports and calling other agencies but nightfall made it difficult to see oil sheen in the water.

Rear Admiral Brian Penoyer also said it was common to get reports of a sheen near a busy seaport.

It happened this way: California Coast: Pipeline breach that killed wildlife, closes beaches.

Brijesh “Jay” Shesat, a general manager of the Hotel Solarena along the Pacific Coast Highway, said the strong smell of fuel filled the air Friday afternoon. He and others watched jets practicing and some of Huntington Beach’s annual air show from the roof of the three-story hotel.

“I said that afternoon that something smelled strange,” Shesat said. “I don’t think any of us could have predicted it was this. We all thought it had to be the jets.”

Natalie Simpson, an associate professor at the University at Buffalo specializing in disaster response and supply chain risk, said the company’s spill response plan says it should be able to detect a leak that amounts to 1% of the pipeline flow within about 50 minutes. 

Simpson stated, “If the oil people smelled in Huntington Beach on Friday was actually this oil, then there would be more leakage.”

Amplify Energy said in a statement that its subsidiary, Beta Offshore, first observed and notified the Coast Guard of an oil sheen Saturday morning.

 Gov. Gavin Newsom declares an emergency Criminal, civil investigations underway

A member of a cleanup crew changes his protective clothing after looking for oil on Huntington Beach, Calif. More than 125,000 gallons of oil spilled from a pipeline about four miles offshore of Southern California's coast. The spill left a sheen over miles of ocean along the shoreline at Huntington Beach.

Amplify’s spill plan warned that a break in the pipeline could cause “substantial harm to the environment” and that in a worst-case scenario, 131,000 gallons of oil could be released. According to the plan, maximum leakage could occur when there is a complete guillotine cutting.

“I’m just eyeballing a map,” Simpson said. “But it does look that’s about where some are speculating a cargo ship dragged an anchor across” the pipeline.

Tuesday, city officials said the first oiled birds were rescued and stabilized at the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center. The center declined donations, saying they might slow down the response.

In a statement, the center announced that “all necessary supplies and equipment for the cleanup effort have been… paid by the responsible party.” Please be assured that we do everything we can to protect wildlife and the natural environment.

Shesat said about 10 guests canceled their hotel reservations by Monday afternoon because of the spill.

“We’ve been suffering like other businesses for so long, and things were starting to really improve. We thought this was going to be a busy October,” he said. “This is like another round of COVID.”

Leslie Speyer-Ofenberg couldn’t help but feel a sense of rage walking around his beach community across the highway from where oil washed up on shore.

“This is what happens when we let energy companies just police themselves,” he said. “This is our mess, all of ours. “This is all our mess. This issue doesn’t seem to bother us until something like this happens.”

Congress may be able to step in. The House Natural Resources Committee will review a pair of bills next week aimed at strengthening regulation and oversight of offshore oil drilling.

Some of the provisions include mandating frequent inspections and requiring pipelines to be equipped with a leak detection system, as well as requiring offshore drilling operators to report failures of critical safety systems directly to the secretary of the interior, who would be required to publicly disclose these incident reports.

Governor Gavin Newsom has declared a State of Emergency and hopes that drilling will be stopped by 2045.

“California continues to lead the nation in phasing out fossil fuels and combating the climate crisis,” Newsom said. “This incident serves as a reminder of the enormous cost fossil fuels have on our communities and the environment.”

Contributing to The Associated Press

Oil floats in the water surface in the Wetlands Talbert Marsh after an oil spill in Huntington Beach, Calif., on Oct. 4, 2021.

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