- Amplify Energy Corp. didn’t shut down the pipeline for more than three hours after being alerted.
- The Coast Guard was alerted Friday night by a “good Samaritan” but did little until the next day.
- It’s not clear what impact the delays have had on wildlife.
HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. – The Coast Guard and the company operating the pipeline that leaked up to 144,000 gallons of oil into waters off Southern California are facing intense scrutiny for delayed responses that might have aggravated the disaster.
Amplify Energy Corp. didn’t shut down the pipeline, almost 100 feet below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, for more than three hours after being alerted, according to federal regulators. And a Coast Guard official acknowledged that the agency was alerted to a sheen on the water Friday night by a “good Samaritan” but did little until the next day.
Coast Guard Rear Adm. Brian Penoyer said Tuesday that the agency but did not have enough corroborating evidence when the call came in and was hindered by darkness and a lack of technology. Penoyer said reports of oil sheens are fairly common at major seaports.
“In hindsight, it seems obvious, but they didn’t know that at that time,” Penoyer said.
Amplify personnel “received a low-pressure alarm” at 2:30 a.m. Saturday on the pipeline that signaled possible failure, U.S. Transportation Department safety regulators wrote in a letter to the company. At 6 a.m. – more than three hours later – the pipeline was shut down, the letter states.
The letter from the department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration also notes it took over six hours for the company to report the spill to the 24-hour federal National Response Center, the designated federal point of contact for reporting all oil, chemical, radiological, biological and etiological discharges into the environment.
Amplify’s spill-response plan calls for the immediate notification in the event of a spill. But CEO Martyn Willsher has insisted that the company wasn’t aware of the spill until a sheen on the water was detected at 8:09 a.m. on Saturday.
It’s not clear what impact the delays have had on wildlife. The Oiled Wildlife Care Network reported through Tuesday that two birds have been found dead and 13 have been recovered alive. Cleanup crews were easing through delicate wetlands in small boats, scooping gobs of oil from the shallow waters.
Coast Guard Capt. Rebecca Ore said divers located a 13-inch split in the pipeline that investigators believe could be the source of the oil leak. The agency said the divers also found a bend in the 17-mile-long, 41-year-old pipeline, possibly dragged by an anchor.
“The pipeline has essentially been pulled like a bow string,” Willsher said. “Its widest point is about 105 feet away from where it was.”
Preliminary reports suggest the failure may have been “caused by an anchor that hooked the pipeline, causing a partial tear,” federal transportation investigators said.
Dozens of ships have routinely anchored offshore in recent months, awaiting access to ports plagued by COVID-19 delays and other issues that have slowed the global supply chain.
The company has 90 days to submit “root cause failure analysis” to federal officials supplemented by an independent third-party documenting the decision-making process and the factors contributing to the failure.
“The final report must include findings and any lessons learned,” the DOT letter says.
Bacon reported from Arlington, Va. Contributing: The Associated Press