HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. (AP) – The US Coast Guard received the first report of a possible oil spill off the southern California coast more than 12 hours before a company reported the major leak in its pipeline and that a cleanup effort be launched, according to the records. .
Oil spill reports reviewed by The Associated Press on Monday raise questions about the Coast Guard’s response to one of the state’s largest recent oil spills, as well as how quickly Amplify Energy, the company operating three offshore platforms and the pipeline, admitted it had a problem and notified authorities.
Two first calls regarding the spill arrived at the National Response Center, which is made up of the Coast Guard and advises other disaster agencies for a swift response. The first was from an anchored ship that noticed a shard in the water and the second, six hours later, from a federal agency which said a possible oil slick had been spotted on satellite images, according to California Office of Emergency Services reports.
The spill sent up to 126,000 gallons (572,807 liters) of heavy crude into the ocean off Huntington Beach, then spilled onto miles of beaches and a protected marsh. The beaches could remain closed for weeks or more, a big blow to the local economy. Coastal fishing in the area is closed to commercial and recreational fishing.
Governor Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency in Orange County, directing state agencies “to take immediate and aggressive action to clean up and mitigate the effects” of the spill.
Experts say it’s too early to determine the total impact on the environment, but so far the number of injured animals has been minimal.
Investigators are investigating whether a ship’s anchor may have struck a pipeline on the ocean floor, Coast Guard officials said Monday.
Amplify Energy CEO Martyn Willsher said company divers were inspecting the area of ââthe suspected leak reported on Saturday and that he expected Tuesday there to be a clearer picture of the cause. damage. Willsher said an anchor from a freighter hitting the pipeline is “one of the distinct possibilities” behind the leak.
Freighters entering the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach regularly pass through the area. Arrears have plagued ports in recent months and several dozen or more giant ships have been steadily anchored while waiting to enter ports and unload.
“We are investigating whether this could have been an anchor from a ship, but it is in the evaluation phase right now,” said Lt. Cmdr of the Coast Guard. said Jeannie Shaye.
Shaye said the Coast Guard was only notified of the disaster on Saturday morning, although records show his dangerous spill response hotline received the first report of a possible oil spill on Friday evening.
A foreign vessel anchored off the coast witnessed an “unknown shard in the water near their vessel” at 6:13 p.m. and the report was called to the response center just after 8:22 p.m., according to the state report. .
Lonnie Harrison Jr., vice president of Colonial Compliance Systems Inc., which works with foreign ships in U.S. waters to report spills, said one of his clients reported the sighting.
Harrison, a retired Coast Guard captain, said the ship was not involved in the spill and was then cleared over the weekend to enter port to refuel after having determined that it was not contaminated by the slick.
About six hours after receiving the first report, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that satellite imagery had spotted a possible oil slick more than 3 miles long. The National Response Center report said the image of a “possible oil anomaly” was likely associated with the first report.
“Although there were many ships in the immediate vicinity of the anomaly, none were clearly associated with the anomaly,” the report said. âThese factors prevented the possible identification of a point source. Yet the NRC report allows great confidence that it was oil. “
The company that operates the pipeline first reported the spill to the Coast Guard Response Center at 8:55 a.m. on Saturday. However, the report says the incident happened at 2:30 a.m.
Federal and state authorities require prompt reporting of a spill. Failure to do so led to criminal proceedings against Plains All American Pipeline, which caused a coastal spill near Santa Barbara in 2015, and Southern California Gas Co. for a massive well blowout later in the year.
A 2016 spill response plan for Amplify rigs submitted to federal regulators called for immediate notification to federal officials when more than one barrel of oil is released into water. Releases greater than five barrels – or that threaten state waters or the coastline – require immediate notification from the state fire marshal and California wildlife officials.
The pipeline was supposed to be monitored by an automated leak detection system that would report problems to a permanently staffed 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. But how quickly it can take these changes into account should 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 5 minutes. According to the response plan, smaller leaks were expected to take up to 50 minutes to detect.
The spill plan warned that a pipeline rupture could cause “substantial damage to the environment” and that in a worst-case scenario 3,111 barrels (131,000 gallons) of oil could be released from the pipeline .
Willsher said the required agencies were notified “instantly” when the company acknowledged the leak was from its pipeline. Records show the spill was not reported by Amplify Energy but by Witt O’Brien’s, a crisis and emergency management company listed on the spill response plan as a point of contact to inform the NRC.
The report said the leaking pipe had been closed but containment was not confirmed. The cause of the rupture was unknown.
Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said investigators were looking to determine if he could file a lawsuit against the state over the spill, even though the leak occurred in waters supervised by the US government. Other potential criminal investigations were being carried out by the US Department of Justice, Coast Guard and California Department of Fish and Wildlife, officials said.
Safety advocates have lobbied for years for federal rules that would tighten oil spill detection requirements and force companies to install valves that can automatically shut off the flow of crude in the event of a leak. The petroleum and pipeline industries have resisted these demands because of their high cost.
âIf the operator had more valves installed on this line, he would now have a much better chance of isolating the point of failure,â said Bill Caram of the Pipeline Safety Trust, an organization based in Bellingham, Wash.
The pipeline was constructed using a process known as electrical resistance welding, according to a company regulatory filing. This welding process has been linked to past pipeline failures, as corrosion can occur along seams, according to government safety advisories and Caram.
Annual reports filed with federal regulators in 2019 and 2020 showed that inspections of the interior and exterior of the pipe did not reveal anything requiring repair.