California pipeline leak detection system not fully functioning


LOS ANGELES – The ruptured offshore pipeline that spilled tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil off the southern California coast this fall did not have a fully functioning leak detection system at the time, according to a report obtained by Associated Press.

The report was compiled by the pipeline operator, Beta Offshore, a Houston-based subsidiary of Amplify Energy, and filed with federal regulators. He reveals that Amplify is investigating whether personnel or control room issues contributed to the crash, but does not explain what was wrong with the detection system.

The report, filed last week and shared with the AP as part of a public registration request, gives no new details about a possible collision with an anchor on the pipeline from a cargo ship suspected of being the cause of the spill of approximately 25,000 gallons. Coast Guard investigators said they suspected the pipeline began to leak long after it was snagged by the drifting cargo ship during high winds in January.

It is not known why it took so long for the 1/2 inch thick steel pipe to leak, or if another blow anchor or other incident led to the rupture and spill. But experts say a properly functioning leak detection system could have detected that things were wrong before a burst of oil spotted on the surface led to the discovery of the leak.

“The fact that they didn’t get the leak detection system working is surprising,” said Ramanan Krishnamoorti, a University of Houston pipeline expert, noting that the company’s accounting for the accident seemed inconsistent. “For people with experience in this area, when you have a leak like this, you would have seen signatures of it with pressure drops and flow rates. “

The spill washed up at Huntington Beach and forced the closure of approximately a week of beaches in that town and others along the Orange County coast. Fishing in the affected area did not resume until last week after tests confirmed the fish did not exhibit dangerous levels of petroleum toxins.

In its report, Beta said the pipeline’s leak detection system, while not fully functional, still helped detect and confirm the leak. Federal investigators previously said a low pressure alarm went off at 2:30 a.m. on October 2, indicating a possible failure.

But in its report, the company says the leak was not discovered until 8 a.m. that day, by a third-party contractor who reported a slick at sea and notified personnel at an oil rig. Beta nearby. The spill was not reported to authorities until more than an hour later.

Amplify Energy spokeswoman Amy Conway declined to answer questions from AP about the leak detection system, citing the ongoing investigation.

“Amplify continues to remain committed to working with regulatory agencies investigating this event,” she said.

Accident reports filed with the US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration require companies to disclose the pressure of pipelines that fail. Beta said the line did not exceed maximum pressure but refused to answer what the pressure was when the line leaked. He said he would complete his answer when he determined the exact time of the crash.

The ruptured pipe that runs along the seabed 100 feet underwater was less than a hundredth of an inch wide and more than 20 inches long, the report said. That means the pipe could have leaked for hours or days, according to Krishnamoorti and a second expert, pipeline accident consultant Richard Kuprewicz.

“It’s not like a rupture that’s wide open, but it’s going to displace oil,” Kuprewicz said. He added that the report leaves unresolved questions about the spill and the company’s response.

“We don’t know how their leak detection system is configured. People think we should be able to see a loss of pressure, but sometimes the loss of pressure would not manifest itself, even with a major pipeline rupture, ”he said.

As of November 11, the cleanup of the spill had cost the company more than $ 17 million. It also lost up to about $ 45,000 of oil, based on about 588 barrels lost at a price of $ 76 each.

The damaged section of the pipeline was to be removed by order of pipeline safety officials who required a metallurgical analysis of the reasons for the line failure within 45 days of receiving the October 4 order. However, this did not happen.

Lawyers for Amplify have said in a civil lawsuit related to the spill that they are awaiting approval of a remedial plan the company submitted to federal authorities on November 19.

Because a dive crew that was supposed to do the work was called in by the Navy to the Persian Gulf, repairs would take place no earlier than December 15, and next February is more likely, company lawyers said in a report. report to the federal government. court filed last week.

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