The Associated Press reviewed Monday's oil spillage reports and raised questions about how the Coast Guard responded to one of the most recent state-wide oil spillages. Also, Amplify Energy's rapid response to the problem, which was reported by The Associated Press, raises concerns about the speed with which Amplify Energy (the company that operates three offshore platforms and the pipeline) notified authorities.
The National Response Center receives two early calls regarding the spillage. It is staffed by Coast Guard personnel and notifies other agencies about disasters for rapid response. According to reports from the California Office of Emergency Services, the first call was made by an anchored ship, which noticed a sheen in the water. The second was six hours later from a federal agency, which said that a possible oil spillage was seen on satellite imagery.
The spillage sent 126,000 gallons (572.807 liters), of heavy crude oil into the ocean off Huntington Beach. It then washed onto miles and protected marshland. It is possible that the beaches will remain closed for several weeks, which could be a significant blow to the local economy. The area's coastal fisheries are closed to recreational and commercial fishing.
Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state emergency in Orange County and directed state agencies to "take immediate and aggressive measures to clean up the spillage and minimize its effects."
Experts agree that it is too early to assess the impact on the environment, but they do say that the amount of animals that have been harmed so far has been minimal.
Coast Guard officials Monday said that investigators are investigating whether the anchor of a ship may have hit a pipeline below the ocean floor.
Martyn Willsher, CEO of Amplify Energy, stated that company divers were looking at the suspected leak Saturday and that he expects to have a better picture Tuesday of the cause. Willsher stated that an anchor from a cargo vessel striking the pipeline was "one of the distinct possibilities."
The area is frequented by cargo ships that enter the twin ports at Los Angeles and Long Beach. In recent months, the ports have been plagued by backlogs. Several dozen of the huge vessels have been regularly anchored while they wait to load and enter the ports.
Coast Guard Lt.Cmdr. said, "We're investigating if it could be an anchor from a vessel, but that's still in the assessment phase." Jeannie Shaye said.
Shaye claimed that the Coast Guard wasn't notified of the catastrophe until Saturday morning. However, records show that its hazardous spill response hotline received the initial report of an oil slick Friday evening.
According to the state report, a foreign ship anchoring off the coast noticed an "unknown sheen" in the water near the vessel at 6:13 p.m. The report was brought into the response center shortly after 8:22 pm.
Colonial Compliance Systems Inc. vice president Lonnie Harrison Jr. said that one of its clients saw the sighting.
Harrison, a former Coast Guard captain, stated that the ship was not involved. He was granted permission to enter the port over the weekend after it was determined that the ship wasn't contaminated.
Six hours after receiving the initial report, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported via satellite imagery that it had detected a possible oil slick over 3 miles (5 km) in length. According to the National Response Center, the report that showed a possible oil anomaly was likely related to the first one.
The report stated that although there were many vessels in close proximity to the anomaly's location, none of them were associated with it. These factors made it impossible to identify a point source. The NRC report still gives high confidence that this was oil.
The pipeline operator first reported the spillage to the Coast Guard's response centre at 8:55 am Saturday. The incident was reported at 2:30 a.m.
Both federal and state authorities require prompt reporting of any spillage. Plains All American Pipeline was prosecuted for failing to report a spillage. It caused a large-scale well explosion near Santa Barbara, California, in 2015.
Federal regulators requested a 2016 spill response plan for Amplify platforms that required immediate notification to federal officials if more than one barrel of oil was released into the waters. Notification must be given to the California wildlife officials and the state fire marshal for any releases exceeding five barrels or that could threaten state waters.
The automated leak detection system was to monitor the pipeline and report any problems to the control room on Elly, which is staffed 24 hours a day.
The alarm system is designed to sound an alarm if there is a change in oil flow. The size of the leak will determine how quickly it detects the changes. The detection time for large leaks -- more than 10% of the oil in the pipeline -- was 5 minutes. According to the response plan, smaller leaks could take up to 50 minutes for detection.
The spill plan stated that a rupture in the pipeline could cause "substantial damage to the environment" and that, in the worst case scenario, 3,111 barrels (131,000 Gallons) of crude oil could leak from the pipeline.
Willsher stated that required agencies were notified immediately after the company discovered the leak from its pipe. According to records, the spillage was not reported by Amplify Energy but by Witt O’Brien's, which is a crisis management company that was listed on the spill response plan, as the point of contact for the NRC.
Although the report stated that the pipe was shut off, it was not confirmed that it had been contained. It was not known what caused the rupture.
Todd Spitzer, Orange County District Attorney, said that he is working with investigators to determine whether he could be charged with state crimes for the spillage even though it occurred in waters controlled by the U.S. government. Officials said that the U.S. Department of Justice and Coast Guard were also investigating possible criminal charges.
Safety advocates have been pushing for federal regulations for many years that would increase oil spillage detection and require companies to install valves that can shut off crude oil flow in the event of a leak. Because of their high costs, the pipeline and oil industries have resist such requirements.
"If there were more valves on the line, the operator would have a better chance of having the point for failure isolated by now," stated Bill Caram, Pipeline Safety Trust, a Washington-based organization.
According to the company's regulatory filing, the pipeline was constructed using an electric resistance welding process. According to Caram and government safety advisories, this welding process is linked to previous oil pipeline failures. Corrosion can occur along seams.
In 2019, and 2020, annual reports to federal regulators showed that inspections of the pipe's inside and out revealed no need for repairs.