On Wednesday, December 15, a federal grand jury in Los Angeles indicted a Houston-based oil company and two subsidiaries for the oil spill off the coast of California in October.
AP Photo / Ringo HW Chiu, File
LOS ANGELES (AP) – A Houston-based oil company and two subsidiaries were indicted on Wednesday over a crude oil spill that tainted Southern California waters and beaches in October, an event prosecutors say was caused in partly because of not having acted correctly when alarms repeatedly alerted workers to a broken pipe.
Amplify Energy Corp. and its companies that operate multiple oil rigs and an oil pipeline off Long Beach have been indicted by a federal grand jury with one count of illegal oil spill.
Investigators believe the pipeline was weakened when a freighter’s anchor hung it up in high winds in January, months before it finally ruptured on October 1, spilling up to about 25,000 gallons. (94,600 liters) of crude oil in the ocean.
U.S. prosecutors said the companies had been negligent in six ways, including failing to respond to eight alarms from the leak detection system over a 13-hour period, which should have alerted them to the spill and minimized the spill. damage. Instead, the pipeline was shut down after each alarm and then restarted, spewing more oil into the ocean.
Amplify criticized the anonymous shipping company for relocating the pipeline and said workers on and at sea responded to what they believed to be false alarms because the system was not functioning properly. This signaled a potential leak on the platform where no leaks were occurring, the company said.
The leak, in fact, came from a section of underwater pipe 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) away, Amplify said.
âIf the crew had known there was a real oil spill in the water, they would have immediately shut down the pipeline,â the company said.
The Associated Press first reported last week that Amplify’s leak detection system was not fully functional. At the time, the company refused to explain what this meant.
AP in October reported on issues surrounding the company’s inability to respond to an alarm.
Meanwhile, the US Coast Guard said on Wednesday it was responding to a report of a burst off the coast of Bolsa Chica State Beach, but had not determined the source and planned to fly over the scene Thursday morning. .
The area is in the same general vicinity as the October leak, although the pipeline is currently out of service.
In this case, the first pipeline rupture alarm sounded at 4:10 p.m. on October 1, but the leak was not discovered until well after sunrise the next morning and was reported around 9 a.m. Citizens ashore called 911 to report the strong smell of crude that first afternoon, and an anchored freighter reported seeing a large shard on the water before sunset.
Local authorities who went looking for a spill on October 1 could not find it. The Coast Guard said it was too dark to go out and search for the spill by the time they received a report about it. They came out after sunrise, finding it around the time the company reported it.
Just days after the spill, Amplify CEO Martyn Willsher declined to answer questions during press conferences about the timeline surrounding the spill and a report that an alarm at 2:30 a.m. on October 2 alerted residents to checkers of a possible spill. He maintained that the company was not notified of the spill until a boat saw a shard in the water at 8:09 a.m. that morning.
Orange County supervisor Katrina Foley said the indictment validated residents who detected the spill a day earlier and reported it.
“It’s terrible that they basically lied to the community at the press briefings and made people believe that what they saw with their own eyes or smelled or knew was in fact not true,” he said. she declared. “What we know now is the company knew it, and the alarms went off the way they were supposed to, and nobody did anything.”
Even after the eighth and final alarm went off, the pipeline ran for nearly an hour in the early morning hours, prosecutors said.
Pipeline safety attorney Bill Caram said the indictment paints a picture of a reckless business.
âI understand there are false positives on leak detection systems, but this is our precious shoreline,â said Caram, director of the Bellingham, Wash., Based Pipeline Safety Trust. âThe fact that they kept pushing the snooze button and ignoring the alarms, shutting down and starting this pipeline and while letting oil leak into the Pacific Ocean is reckless and blatant. “
Prosecutors also found that the pipeline was understaffed and the crew was tired and insufficiently trained on the leak detection system.
The indictment’s description of the company’s staff as tired indicated a long-standing problem in the industry, said pipeline expert Ramanan Krishnamoorti from the University of Houston.
“Staff fatigue and overwork is old and commonplace and inexcusable,” he said. âThis has been shown time and time again to be the most significant vulnerability. “
It is not known why it took so long for the 1.25 cm (1.25 cm) thick steel pipe to leak after the apparent anchoring incident, or if another impact from anchorage or other incident led to the rupture and the spill.
The spill washed up at Huntington Beach and forced the closure of approximately a week of beaches in the city and others along the Orange County coast. Fishing in the affected area only resumed recently, after tests confirmed the fish did not exhibit dangerous levels of petroleum toxins.
If convicted, the charge carries up to five years of probation for the company and fines of up to millions of dollars.