Ringo HW Chiu / AP
LONG BEACH, Calif .– A ship’s anchor may have snagged, dragged, and torn an undersea pipeline that spilled tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil into the ocean off Southern California, according to federal investigators who also found that the owner of the pipeline failed to quickly shut down operations after a security system alerted to a possible spill.
Questions remained about the timeline of the weekend’s spill, which tainted beaches and a protected swamp, potentially shutting them down for weeks, along with commercial and recreational fishing, a major blow to the local economy.
Some reports of a possible spill, an odor of petroleum and an oily sheen in the waters off Huntington Beach arrived Friday night but were unsubstantiated and the pipeline operator, Amplify Energy Corp. , did not report a spill until the next morning, authorities said.
An alarm went off in a company control room at 2:30 a.m. Saturday, indicating that pressure had dropped in the pipeline, indicating a possible leak, but Amplify waited until 6:01 a.m. to shut the pipeline, according to the findings. preliminary investigation into the spread.
The Houston-based company took three hours of overtime to notify the U.S. Coast Guard’s National Response Center of the oil spill, investigators said, further slowing the response to an accident Amplify workers spent time around. years to prepare.
However, Amplify CEO Martyn Willsher insisted the company was not aware of the spill until it saw a shard in the water at 8:09 a.m.
The company’s spill response plan provides for immediate notification of a spill. Criminal charges have been laid in the past when a company took too long to notify federal and state authorities of a spill.
Federal transportation investigators said on Tuesday the pipe had been split to a depth of about 98 feet (30 meters) and that a section nearly a kilometer long had been pulled along the seabed, may –being by an anchor that caught it and caused a partial tear, federal transportation investigators said.
âThe pipeline has basically been pulled like a bowstring,â Willsher said. “At its widest point, it is 105 feet (32 meters) from where it was.”
Huge freighters regularly cross the pipeline as they make their way to the massive Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex. They are given the coordinates of where they should anchor until unloading.
Anchored cargo ships move continuously due to the changing winds and tides and an improperly adjusted anchor weighing 10 tons (9 metric tons) or more can drag “whatever the anchor is fouled on,” said Steven Browne, professor of shipping to the State of California. University Maritime Academy.
There was no indication whether investigators suspected a particular vessel was involved.
Jeff Gritchen / AP
“We’re going to make sure we have answers as to how this happened and make sure we hold the responsible party accountable,” said Congresswoman Katie Porter, a Democrat who chairs the oversight subcommittee. and investigation by the House Natural Resources Committee. . It represents a district a few kilometers inland from the dumping area.
The spill sent up to 126,000 gallons (572,807 liters) of heavy crude into the ocean, but rescuers ashore were pleasantly surprised to find a few birds covered in oil.
During a two-hour boat trip off the coast of Huntington Beach, an AP video journalist saw no visible oil. Pelicans and other seabirds floated on calm waters and four dolphins swam beside the boat.
Meanwhile, Coast Guard officials defended their decision to wait until Saturday morning to investigate a possible spill first reported on Friday evening – about 10 hours earlier – near a group of boats anchored off the coast of Huntington Beach.
At 2:06 a.m. Saturday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said satellite images showed the high likelihood of an oil spill. The report was forwarded to the National Response Center, a hazardous spill hotline operated by the Coast Guard.
Residents at nearby Newport Beach had also complained about a strong smell of petroleum on Friday night, and police have issued a public advisory about it.
The Coast Guard was alerted to a shard in the water by a “good samaritan,” but lacked sufficient corroborating evidence and was hampered by the darkness and lack of technology to search for the spill, said Coast Guard Rear Admiral Brian Penoyer at The Associated. Hurry.
Penoyer said it was quite common to get reports of oil reflections in a large seaport.
âLooking back it seems obvious, but they didn’t know it at the time,â Penoyer said.
Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom reiterated his calls for the United States to move beyond oil. Newsom signed a decree last year banning the sale of new gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035.
“It is time, once and for all, to deceive ourselves that this must be part of our future. It is part of our past,” he said from Bolsa Chica State Beach, where he was joined. by local, state and federal officials to discuss the spill.