Huntington Beach, Calif., Oct. 5 (BUS) – The US Coast Guard received its first report of a potential oil spill off the coast of Southern California more than 12 hours before a company announced the major leak in its pipeline and began cleanup efforts. Records appear.
The 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, which operates three offshore platforms and the pipeline, is aware of a problem and notifies it. authorities, The Associated Press reports.
Two early calls about the spill reached the National Response Center, which the Coast Guard operates and reports disasters to other agencies for rapid response. The first was from an anchored ship that noticed a flash on the water and the second was six hours later from a federal agency that said a possible oil slick was seen on satellite imagery, the California Office of Emergency Services reports.
The spill sent up to 126,000 gallons (572,807 liters) of heavy crude oil into the ocean off Huntington Beach and subsequently drifted to miles of sheltered beaches and swamps. Beaches may remain closed for weeks or more, which is a huge blow to the local economy. Coastal fisheries in the area are closed to commercial and recreational fishing.
Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in Orange County, directing state agencies “to take immediate and decisive action to clean up and mitigate the effects of the spill.”
Experts say it is too early to determine the full impact on the environment, but so far the number of animals found affected is small.
Coast Guard officials said Monday that investigators are looking into whether a ship’s anchor hit a pipeline on the ocean floor.
Amplify Energy CEO Martyn Willsher said company divers were inspecting the area of the suspected leak reported on Saturday, and predicted that by Tuesday there would be a clearer picture of what caused the damage. Welcher said a cargo ship hitting the pipeline was “one distinct possibility” behind the leak.
Cargo ships that enter the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach routinely pass through the area. The backlog has hit the ports in recent months and dozens or more giant ships have been regularly moored while waiting to enter the ports and unload them.
“We’re looking at whether it might be an anchor from a ship, but that’s in the evaluation stage right now,” said Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander. Jenny Shay said.
Shay said the Coast Guard was not notified of the disaster until Saturday morning, although records show that the critical spill response hotline received its first report of a potential oil slick Friday evening.
A foreign ship moored off the coast saw an “unknown flash in the waters near its ship” at 6:13 p.m. and the report was called to the response center after 8:22 p.m., according to the state report.
Lonnie Harrison Jr. said: , vice president of Colonial Compliance Systems Inc. Ltd., which works with foreign ships in US waters to report spills, said one of its customers reported sightings.
Harrison, a retired Coast Guard captain, said the ship was not involved in the spill and was later granted clearance over the weekend to enter the port to refuel after it was determined that it was not contaminated with the spill.
About six hours after receiving the first report, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said satellite imagery had spotted a potential oil slick more than 3 miles (5 kilometres) long. The National Response Center report said a picture of a “possible oil anomaly” may have been associated with the first report.
“Although there were several ships in direct proximity to this anomaly, it is clear that none of them were associated with this anomaly,” the report said. “These factors precluded the possible identification of a point source. However, the NRC report allows high confidence that this was oil.”
The company operating the pipeline first reported the leak to the Coast Guard Response Center at 8:55 a.m. Saturday. However, the report said that the accident occurred at 2:30 a.m.
Federal and state authorities require prompt reporting of a spill. Failure to do so led to criminal prosecutions against Plains All American Pipeline, which caused a coastal spill near Santa Barbara in 2015, and Southern California Gas due to a massive well blowout later that year.
The 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 the water. Releases larger than five barrels—or threatening state waters or the shoreline—require immediate notification from state fire officials and California wildlife officials.
The pipeline was supposed to be monitored under an automated leak detection system that would report problems to the round-the-clock control room on the oil rig known as Elly.
The system is designed to trigger an alarm when a change in oil flow is detected. But the speed at which you can pick up on these changes is expected to vary depending on the size of the leak. For large leaks – 10% or more of the amount of oil flowing through the pipeline – the detection time was estimated to be 5 minutes. Small leaks were expected to take up to 50 minutes to detect, according to the response plan.
The spill plan warned that a pipeline disruption could cause “significant 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.
Welcher said the required agencies were notified “immediately” when the company realized the leak was from its tube. Records show that the spill was not reported by Amplify Energy, but by Witt O’Brien, a crisis and emergency management company included in the Spill Response Plan as a point of contact to notify the NRC.
The report said the leaked tube had been closed, but its containment had not been confirmed. The cause of the rupture is unknown.
Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said he has investigators looking into whether he can file formal charges about the leak even though the leak occurred in US government-controlled waters. Officials said the US Department of Justice, Coast Guard and California Department of Fish and Wildlife were pursuing other potential criminal investigations.
Safety advocates have pushed for years for federal rules that would strengthen oil spill detection requirements and force companies to install valves that could automatically shut off the flow of crude in the event of a spill. The oil and pipeline industries have resisted these requirements due to the high cost.
“If the operator had more valves installed on this line, they would have a much better chance of isolating the point of failure now,” said Bill Karam of the Pipeline Safety Trust, an organization based in Bellingham, Washington.
The pipeline was built using a process known as electrical resistance welding, according to a regulatory filing from the company. The welding process has been linked to previous oil pipeline failures because corrosion can occur along welds, according to government and Caram safety guidelines.
Annual reports submitted to federal regulators in 2019 and 2020 showed that inspections of the pipe inside and out did not reveal anything that required repairs.