California oil spillage: Did ship's anchor contribute to the oil spillage? Perhaps

Authorities said Monday that officials are investigating the possibility that a ship's anchor might have struck an oil pipe on the ocean floor. This could have caused heavy crude oil to leak into California's coastal waters.

California oil spillage: Did ship's anchor contribute to the oil spillage? Perhaps

According to the head of the company operating the pipeline, divers from the company were looking at the area where the leak was discovered on Saturday. He expected that the cause of the damage would be known by Tuesday.

Martyn Willsher, CEO of Amplify Energy, stated that an anchor from a cargo vessel striking the pipeline was "one possibility" for the leak. He stated that divers had examined the pipeline for more than 8,000 feet (2.438 meters), and they were focusing their attention on one area of "significant interest."

Coast Guard officials stated that cargo ships arriving at the twin ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach regularly pass through the area. In recent months, the ports have been plagued by backlogs and more than a dozen of the massive vessels have been regularly anchored while they wait to load and enter the ports.

Coast Guard Lt.Cmdr. said, "We're investigating if it could be an anchor from a vessel, but that's still in the assessment phase." Jeannie Shaye said.

The ocean was contaminated by 126,000 gallons (572.807 liters), of heavy crude oil, which landed in the ocean. The spillage could cause beaches to remain closed for several weeks or more.

Todd Spitzer, Orange County District Attorney, stated that he is working with investigators to determine whether he can file state charges for the spillage, even though it occurred in waters controlled by the U.S. government.

Spitzer stated that Amplify's divers should be prohibited from near the pipeline without an independent authority.

Officials said that the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Central District of California, Coast Guard and California Department of Fish and Wildlife were also conducting criminal investigations.

Safety advocates have been pushing for federal regulations for many years that would increase oil spillage detection and require companies to install valves that can shut off crude oil flow in the event of a leak. Because of their high costs, the pipeline and oil industries have resist such requirements.

"If there were more valves on the line, the operator would have a better chance of having the point for failure isolated by now," stated Bill Caram, Pipeline Safety Trust, based in Bellingham.

According to the company's regulatory filing, the pipeline was constructed using an electric resistance welding process. This welding process has been linked with past oil pipeline ruptures due to corrosion that can occur along seams according to Bill Caram, Pipeline Safety Trust Director.

In 2019, and 2020, annual reports to federal regulators showed that inspections of the inside and exterior of the pipe found nothing that required repairs.

As the extent of the oil spillage was revealed environmentalists feared that the oil could cause havoc to birds and marine life in the region. Michael Ziccardi is a veterinarian and director for the Oiled Wildlife Care Network. He said that only four oily birds have been discovered so far. He said that one of the birds had suffered from chronic injuries and had been forced to be put down.

He said Monday at a news conference, "It's much more than we had feared."

Ziccardi stated that he is "cautiously optimistic" but it's too early to determine the impact of the spillage on wildlife. He said that the greatest number of oiled birds in other offshore oil spillages have been found between two and five days following the incident.

Amplify has three oil platforms located 9 miles (14.5 km) off the coast California. They were all built between 1980-84. Amplify also owns a 16-inch pipeline, which transports oil from the processing platform to an offshore storage facility in Long Beach. According to the company, the oil is likely coming from a ruptured pipeline located approximately 4 miles (6.44 km) from the platform.

The company submitted a spill-response-plan to federal regulators in 2016. It stated that its worst-case scenario for a spillage was based upon the assumption of a 3 mile (4.8 km) pipeline cut inland from one its platforms. An outside consultant found that such a large spillage was unlikely at the location due to the line's 120-foot depth and its proximity to a shipping lane, where ships don't normally anchor.

Records show that the Beta oil field was owned by at most seven corporations since 1976 when it was discovered and discovered by Royal Dutch Shell. Amplify purchased the operation from a corporate predecessor in 2012.

According to data from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (federal agency that regulates offshore oil and gas), the Amplify subsidiary, Beta Operating Co., has been cited 125 time for safety and environmental violations. The online database does not provide details about each incident, but only the total number of violations.

For three separate incidents, the company was fined $85,000. Two of the incidents were in 2014. One involved a worker not wearing protective equipment and was shocked with 98,000 V electricity. The worker survived. A separate incident saw crude oil released from a boom that had been incorrectly bypassed by a safety device.

An undersea pipe connecting two platforms caused two oil leakages in 1999. This led to tar balls washing up on beaches throughout Orange County.

The leaks were caused by corrosion, which created pin-sized cracks in the steel walls of a pipeline. Federal regulators fined Aera Energy LLC $48,000, which was a partnership between Shell Oil Co. and Mobil Oil Corp., the owner of the oil fields at the time. Environmental groups criticised the penalty as a slap on their wrist.

Amplify had high hopes about the Beta oilfield before the accident and was investing millions in upgrades and new "sidetrack" projects to tap into the oil laterally.

Willsher stated that there is the possibility to continue for as long or as you want during an August conference call with investors. He said that there was enough capacity to produce "up to 22,000 barrels per day."

Willsher's optimism was shared by investors, who sent the stock of the company up sevenfold to $5.75 at Friday's close. Stock fell 43% during trading Monday.

In 2017, the company filed for bankruptcy and was able to emerge a few months later. The company had used cash from the Beta field, as well as other Oklahoma and Texas residents, to pay $235 million of its debt.

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