By Brian Meley, Matthew Brown and Stephanie Dizzio
Huntington Beach, Calif. (AP) — A pipeline leaking thousands of gallons of oil into Southern California waters broke open and was pulled more than 100 feet along the ocean floor, possibly by a ship’s anchorage, officials said Tuesday.
The Coast Guard said the pipe that was pulled down was three-quarters of a mile (1.2 kilometers) long, and the wound was a foot (30 centimeters) wide.
Federal transportation investigators said preliminary reports suggest the failure “could have been caused by an anchor that bent the pipeline, causing a partial tear.”
Investigators said the break in the line occurred about 5 miles below the surface at a depth of about 98 feet (30 meters). Those findings were included in a Department of Transportation order blocking that company from restarting the pipeline without extensive inspection and testing.
The order did not identify the source of the investigators’ information, and agency officials did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.
Coast Guard Captain Rebecca Ore said divers determined about 4,000 feet (1,219 m) of pipeline was “later displaced” by about 105 feet (32 m). He did not say what might have been the reason for his shaking.
In addition, there was a 13-inch (33-centimeter) wound in the pipeline, Ore said.
The head of the company operating the line said the pipe was displaced “almost in a semicircle”.
“The pipeline is essentially stretched like a bow string. And so at its widest point, it’s 105 feet away from where it was,” Amplify CEO Martin Wilser said at a news conference.
Officials said Monday they are looking into whether a ship’s anchorage may have caused an oil spill that contaminated beaches in Orange County. There was no confirmation on Tuesday that the leak was caused by an anchor.
An official told the Associated Press on Tuesday that the Coast Guard did not investigate preliminary reports of the oil spill for nearly 12 hours because it did not have enough corroborating evidence and was hampered by darkness and a lack of technology.
Rear Admiral Brian Penoir acknowledged that the Coast Guard was alerted Friday night by a “Good Samaritan” that there was a glare on the water. Pennoyer initially said that the Coast Guard conducted a broadcast with the oil spill for several cargo and tanker vessels anchored from the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports, seeking more information, but did not receive a response.
At a later press conference, Ore disputed this, saying the Coast Guard did not transmit any information to ships or oil platforms.
Pennoyer said reports of flashes are common near the busy port. It would take more than 12 hours for an oil pipeline company to report a 126,000 gallon (572,807 litre) heavy crude oil spill.
“After all, it seems obvious, but they didn’t know at the time,” Penauer said. “So to put themselves in a position they knew, it’s a very normal process.”
The two initial calls about the spill came to the National Response Center, which is staffed by the Coast Guard and notifies other agencies of disasters for a quick response. The first was from an anchored ship that saw a glow on the water. The second came six hours later from a federal agency that said a possible oil slick had been seen on satellite imagery, reports the California Office of Emergency Services.
Up to 126,000 gallons (572,807 litres) of heavy crude spilled into the sea from Huntington Beach, and it was then washed up onto beaches and a protected marshland. Beaches could remain closed for weeks or longer, a huge hit to the local economy. Coastal fisheries in the area are closed to commercial and recreational fishing.
Federal and state authorities require prompt reporting of spills. Failure to do so has led to criminal prosecutions against companies including the Plains All American Pipeline, which caused a coastal leak near Santa Barbara in 2015, and the Southern California Gas Company to a massive well later that year. was blown up.
Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley expressed concern that the company may withhold evidence. But the county’s emergency manager, Michelle Anderson, reassured the board of supervisors on Tuesday that the Coast Guard was on the scene to make sure the investigation was independent.
“This is an investigation that involves objective parties, so that we can finally know the outcome,” Anderson said.
Cargo ships entering the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach regularly pass through the area. Backlogs have plagued the ports in recent months, and several dozen or more huge ships are routinely anchored as they wait to enter and disembark at ports.
A 2016 spill response plan for Amplify platforms submitted to federal regulators called for immediate notification of federal officials when more than a barrel of oil has been released into the water. The release of more than five barrels — or one that threatens state waters or shorelines — requires immediate notification from state fire marshals and California wildlife officials.
The pipeline was to be monitored under an automated leak detection system that would report problems to the control room operating round-the-clock at the oil platform called Ely.
The system was designed to trigger an alarm whenever a change in oil flow is detected. But how fast it can pick up those changes was expected to vary according to 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 at five minutes. According to the response plan, it was expected to take up to 50 minutes to detect the small leak.
The spill plan warned that a pipeline rupture could cause “significant damage to the environment” and in a worst-case scenario 3,111 barrels (131,000 gallons) of oil could be released from the pipeline.
Wilser said essential agencies were notified “immediately” when the company believed the leak was from its pipes. Records show the spill was not reported by Amplify Energy, but by Witt O’Brien, a crisis and emergency management firm listed on the spill response plan as the point of contact to inform the NRC.
The report said the leaking pipe had been sealed, but the containment was not confirmed.
Officials said a possible criminal investigation is being conducted by the Orange County District Attorney, the US Department of Justice, the Coast Guard and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Safety advocates have pushed for years for federal regulations that would strengthen oil spill detection requirements and force companies to install valves that can automatically shut off the flow of crude oil in case of a leak. . The oil and pipeline industries have resisted such requirements because of the high cost.
Associated Press writers Christopher Weber in Los Angeles, Michael Bisker in Washington, Bernard Condon in New York and Amy Taxin in Huntington Beach, California contributed to this report.