Indictment says company ignored California oil spill alarms


LOS ANGELES (AP) – Federal prosecutors have blamed the negligence of a Texas oil company over a crude oil spill that tainted the Southern California coastline, in a felony indictment claiming tired workers n acted incorrectly when repeated alarms signaled an offshore pipeline rupture.

Houston-based Amplify Energy Corp. and two subsidiaries were indicted Wednesday by a federal grand jury with a single misdemeanor of illegally offloading oil. The companies operate three oil rigs and one pipeline off Long Beach near Los Angeles.

Investigators believe the San Pedro Bay pipeline was weakened when the anchor of a freighter hung it up in high winds in January, months before it finally broke on October 1, dumping until ‘to about 25,000 gallons (94,600 liters) of crude oil in the ocean.

U.S. prosecutors said the companies had been negligent in six ways, including failing to respond to eight alarms from the leak detection system over a 13-hour period, which should have alerted them to the spill and minimized the spill. damage. Instead, the line was shut down and then restarted several times, as workers at an offshore rig struggled to determine the site of the leak and oil continued to spit out of the broken pipe miles deep down. from the ocean, according to the indictment.

Amplify accused the unnamed vessel of moving the pipeline. He said company workers at home and abroad believed they were responding to false alarms from a faulty system that signaled a potential leak on the platform, the company said.

“If the crew had known there was a real oil spill in the water, they would have immediately shut down the pipeline,” the company said.

The Associated Press first reported last week that Amplify’s leak detection system was not fully functional. AP in October reported questions about the company’s inability to respond to an alarm.

Amplify wants to repair the pipeline over the next few months and plans to start work as early as Friday, spokesman Patrick Creighton said.

Federal pipeline safety officials have only approved the first phase of this work: repairing the rupture and removing the oil still inside the pipeline, Creighton said. He could not provide an estimate on the volume of crude remaining.

Pending further approvals of its plans, the company wants to remove 282 feet (86 meters) of damaged pipe and replace it with new pipe. According to an emergency repair request submitted to the US Army Corps of Engineers, the new section would be covered with concrete mat to protect against future anchor impacts.

Miyoko Sakashita of the Center for Biological Diversity, which wants to end offshore oil production, wondered whether the work should be considered an emergency. She said more environmental studies were needed before the line resumed operations.

The U.S. Coast Guard conducted an overflight on Thursday to investigate a shard reported about half a mile (0.8 kilometers) off the coast of Bolsa Chica State Beach, near the October leak.

No impact was found on the shore, where beach clean-up crews remained on standby. The boats were using dams to surround the small area of ​​shine. Protective measures have been taken at Talbert Marsh, Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve and the Santa Ana River, but no oil has been observed in these locations.

Orange County supervisor Katrina Foley told KNBC-TV that another pipeline under repair had a pin leak “and that may be the source.”

The owner of this pipeline has not been identified.

The Coast Guard is scheduled to analyze samples of the shard in the coming days to help identify its source.

When the line broke, the first alarm went off at 4:10 p.m. on October 1, but the leak was not discovered until well after sunrise the next morning and was reported at around 9 a.m.

Just days after the spill, Amplify CEO Martyn Willsher declined to answer questions during press conferences about the timeline surrounding the spill and a report that an alarm at 2:30 a.m. on October 2 alerted residents to checkers for a possible spill. He claimed the company was not notified of the spill until a boat saw a shard in the water at 8:09 a.m. that morning.

Orange County supervisor Katrina Foley said the indictment validated residents who detected the spill a day earlier and reported it.

“They basically lied to the community during the press briefings and made people believe that what they saw with their own eyes or smelled or knew was in fact not true,” she said. “The alarms went off as they were supposed to, and no one did anything.”

Even after the eighth and final alarm went off, the pipeline ran for nearly an hour in the early morning hours, prosecutors said.

Pipeline safety attorney Bill Caram said the indictment painted a picture of a reckless company.

“The fact that they continued to press the snooze button and ignore the alarms, stop and start this pipeline and leak oil into the Pacific Ocean is reckless and blatant,” he said. .

Prosecutors also found that the pipeline was understaffed and the crew was tired and insufficiently trained on the leak detection system.

This indicates a long-standing problem in the industry, said pipeline expert Ramanan Krishnamoorti from the University of Houston.

“Staff fatigue and overwork is old and commonplace and inexcusable,” he said. “This has been shown time and time again to be the most significant vulnerability. “

It is not known why it took so long for the 1.25 cm (1.25 cm) thick steel pipe to leak after the apparent anchoring incident, or if another impact from anchorage or other incident led to the rupture and the spill.

The spill washed up at Huntington Beach and forced the closure of approximately a week of beaches in the city and others along the Orange County coast. Fishing in the affected area only resumed recently, after tests confirmed the fish did not exhibit dangerous levels of petroleum toxins.

If convicted, the charge carries up to five years of probation for the company and fines of up to millions of dollars.


Brown reported from Billings, MT. Associated Press reporter Amy Taxin contributed.

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