By Brian Meley, Matthew Brown and Stephanie Dizzio
LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Evidence emerged Tuesday that a ship’s anchor towed and pulled an underwater pipeline that broke and spilled thousands of gallons of crude oil off Southern California, an accident off the Coast. The guard admitted he didn’t investigate about 10 hours after the first call about a possible leak.
Federal transportation investigators said the pipe had split open and a huge section was pulled more than 100 feet (30.5 m) along the sea level, possibly “an anchorage that bent the pipeline, causing a partial tear.” had gone”.
“The pipeline is essentially pulled like a bow string,” said Martin Wilser, CEO of Amplify Energy Corp., which operates the pipeline. “At its widest point, it is 105 feet (32 m) away from where it was.”
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.
The timing of the outbreak on Tuesday was still unclear, and there was no indication whether investigators suspected a particular ship was involved.
Coast Guard officials defended their decision to wait until sunrise to investigate a possible leak first reported by a commercial vessel at 8:22 p.m. Friday near a group of boats anchored at Huntington Beach.
That view was supported by a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at 2:06 a.m. Saturday at the National Response Center, a hazardous spill hotline operated by the Coast Guard, which said satellite images showed an oil spill. There is a strong potential.
Residents of nearby Newport Beach also complained about the strong smell of petroleum on Friday and police served notices to the public.
An official told the Associated Press that the Coast Guard had been alerted to a glow on the water by a “Good Samaritan” but did not have enough corroborating evidence and was hampered by darkness and a lack of technology.
Rear Admiral Brian Penoir said the Coast Guard conducted a broadcast with the oil spill for several cargo and tanker ships anchored at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports, asking for more information, but did not receive a response.
Coast Guard Captain Rebecca Ore later disputed that account. She said the Coast Guard did not transmit any information to ships or oil platforms, and Penoyer later said it needed to check its facts.
Penauer said it is quite common to receive reports of oil spills in a major port.
“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.”
Federal pipeline safety investigators timed the spill at 2:30 a.m. Saturday, when they said an alarm sounded in the control room of an offshore oil rig that the pipeline had lost pressure, indicating a possible leak.
Wilser said the company didn’t know about the leak until he saw a glow on the water at 8:09 a.m.
The pipeline company did not report the leak till around 9 am on Saturday. At that time, the Coast Guard remained in the water for a few hours and then the leak was detected.
The company’s spill-response plan calls for immediate notification of the spill. Criminal charges have been brought in the past when it took too long to notify federal and state officials about a spill.
Several different agencies, including local and federal prosecutors, are investigating the spill.
California Governor Gavin Newsom said the pipeline last had an internal inspection in October 2019 and an external inspection in April of 2020. He said the pipeline was due for a second internal inspection at the end of the month. Newsom said no issues were cited in the inspection.
Speaking at a news conference, he reiterated his call to move on from oil, though environmentalists say they haven’t done enough in that regard.
“It is time, once and for all, to abuse ourselves that this should be part of our future. It is part of our past,” he told Bolsa Chica State Beach, where he spoke to local, state and federal officials. joined to discuss the spill.
The Coast Guard said the section of pipe was three-quarters of a mile (1.2 kilometers) long, and the wound was a foot (30 centimeters) wide.
Investigators said the break in the line occurred at a depth of about 98 feet (30 meters) over a distance of about 5 miles. Those findings were included in a Department of Transportation order that prohibited the 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.
Associated Press writers Christopher Weber in Los Angeles, Kathleen Ronne in Sacramento, Michael Bisecker in Washington and Amy Taxin in Huntington Beach, California contributed to this report.