LOS ANGELES (AP) – A Houston-based oil company and two subsidiaries were charged Wednesday with a crude oil spill on southern California waters and beaches in October, partly due to a failure to operate properly when alarms repeatedly alerted workers, prosecutors say. A pipe break.
Amplify Energy Corporation and several of its companies operate a pipeline in Oil Rick and Long Beach, accused by a federal grand jury of illegally dumping oil.
Analysts believe the pipeline was weakened by strong winds anchoring a cargo ship in January, about 25,000 gallons (94,600 liters) of crude oil spilled into the sea just months before it exploded on October 1st.
U.S. prosecutors said there were six ways to be negligent, including that the leak detection system failed to respond to alarms within 13 hours, and should have been alerted to the leak and minimized damage. Instead, the pipe was shut off and restarted after each alarm, spilling more oil into the sea.
Amplify blamed the unnamed shipping company for replacing the pipeline and said workers outside and outside responded to what they believed were false alarms because the system was not working properly. The company said it signals a leak on a non-leaking platform.
The leak was, in fact, 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) from a section of submarine pipeline, Amplify said.
“If employees knew there was a real oil spill in the water, they would shut off the tap immediately,” the company said.
The Associated Press first reported last week that Amplify’s leak detection system was not fully functional.. At the time, the company declined to comment on what that meant.
In October, the AP reported questions surrounding its failure to respond to the alarm.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Coast Guard said Wednesday it was responding to a report of a sheen on Bolsa Sika State Beach, but has not determined the source and plans to fly over the scene Thursday morning.
The area is in the same public vicinity where the leak occurred in October, although the pipeline is not currently operating.
If so, the first pipe-breaking alarm sounded at 4:10 pm on October 1, but no leak was found the next morning after sunrise, and residents on shore to 911 reported the strong smell of crude oil. The first afternoon, and the anchored cargo ship announced that it had seen a great gleam in the water before sunset.
On Oct. 1, local officials searched for a leak but did not find it. According to the Coast Guard, it was too dark to go outside and search by the time information about the leak was received. They went out after sunrise and found it by the time the company announced it.
A few days after the leak, Amplify CEO Martin Wilsher refused to answer questions at news conferences surrounding the leak and warned regulators that an alarm leak could occur at 2:30 a.m. on October 2. He said the company was unaware of the leak until it saw a gleam in the water at 8:09 a.m. that morning.
Orange County Superintendent Katrina Foley said the indictment confirms residents who discovered the leak a day earlier and reported it.
“During the press conference they were basically lying to the community and it made people believe that what they saw or smelled or knew with their own eyes was not really true,” he said. “What we do know now is that the company knew this, and the alarms sounded like they thought, and no one did anything.”
Prosecutors said the pipeline operated for nearly an hour in the early hours of the morning, even after the eighth and final alarm sounded.
Pipeline defense attorney Bill Karam said the indictment paints a picture of an irresponsible company.
Carrom, director of the Washington-based Pipeline Safety Foundation in Bellingham, said, “I understand there are false positives in leak detection systems, but this is our treasure trove.” “
Prosecutors found that the pipeline was understaffed, staff was tired, and inadequately trained in the leak detection system.
Ramanan Krishnamurthy, a plumbing expert at the University of Houston, said the indictment’s explanation that the company’s employees were tired indicates a long-standing industrial problem.
“Tired and overworked employees are old and mediocre and unforgiving,” he said. “It has been proven time and time again that this is a very important vulnerability.”
It is not clear why it took so long for the 1/2-inch (1.25-centimeter) thick steel line to leak after the apparent anchor incident, or if another anchor was struck or caused to collapse and leak by another incident.
The leak came ashore at Huntington Beach and forced the city’s beaches and others on Orange County to be closed for a week. Fishing in the affected area was recently resumed and it was confirmed that the tested fish were free of unsafe oil toxins.
If convicted, the corporation faces up to five years in prison and a $ 1 million fine.
Reported by Brown from Billings, Montana. Contributed by Associated Press Reporter Amy Doxin.