- The pipeline breach released more than 140,000 gallons of oil.
- An anchor is “one of the distinct possibilities” behind the leak.
- Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency.
HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. – Authorities could determine as soon as Tuesday the cause of the pipeline breach that spilled up to 144,000 gallons of oil off the Southern California coast, fouling waters and beaches for miles.
Investigators are looking into whether a ship’s anchor may have struck a pipeline on the ocean floor. An anchor is “one of the distinct possibilities” behind the leak, Amplify Energy CEO Martyn Willsher told a news conference. Willsher said he expected that authorities would have a better idea of what caused the damage Tuesday.
Backlogs have plagued the ports in recent months, and dozens of massive ships are often anchored while waiting their turn to unload.
“We’re looking into if it could have been an anchor from a ship, but that’s in the assessment phase right now,” Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Jeannie Shaye said.
Cleanup boats floated a mile long chain of booms to help slow the spread of the simmering spill that left black ribbons and gobs of oil along the shoreline. Dwayne Brady and his small dog, Killer, watched crews along beach battle to stop the oil from spreading.
“You’d think in this day and age a spill that’s this large would have immediately been detected and stopped,” he said, shaking his head. “This shouldn’t have been this bad. No way.”
The pipeline was supposed to be monitored by an automated leak detection system and control room staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Along with the cause of the leak, the criminal and civil investigations will try to determine why it took so long for Amplify to learn of and report the unfolding disaster.
The first emergency call came in Friday at 6:13 p.m., and it wasn’t from Amplify. A ship had noticed a sheen in the water, according to a federal report on the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services spill report website. Officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration then notified the federal response center twice that night of a possible oil spill less than five miles off Huntington Beach, according to updates on the California emergency services website.
Brijesh “Jay” Shesat, a general manager of the Hotel Solarena along the Pacific Coast Highway, said strong the strong smell of fuel filled the air Friday afternoon. He and others had watched jets practicing and some of Huntington Beach’s annual air show from the roof of the three-story hotel.
“I said that afternoon that something smelled strange,” Shesat said. “I don’t think any of us could have predicted it was this. We all thought it had to be the jets.”
Yet Amplify Energy said in a statement that it’s subsidiary Beta Offshore first observed and notified the Coast Guard of an oil sheen Saturday morning.
The leak detection system, part of Amplify’s spill reaction plan, was designed to trigger an alarm whenever a change in the flow of oil is detected, the Associated Press reported. But how fast it can pick up on those changes can vary according to the size of the leak. For a large leak – 10% or more of the amount of oil flowing through the pipeline – the detection time was estimated at 5 minutes. Smaller leaks were expected to take up to 50 minutes to detect, according to the response plan.
Amplify’s spill plan warned that a break in the pipeline could cause “substantial harm to the environment” and that in a worst-case scenario 131,000 gallons of oil could be released from the pipeline. This leak surpassed that amount.
Shesat said about 10 guests cancel their reservations by Monday afternoon due to the spill.
“We’ve been suffering like other businesses for so long and things were starting to really improve. We thought this was going to be a busy October,” he said. “This is like another round of COVID.”
Leslie Speyer-Ofenberg couldn’t help but feel a sense of rage walking around his beach community just across the highway from where oil was washing up on shore.
“This is what happens when we let energy companies just police themselves,” he said. “This is our mess, all of ours. … This issue doesn’t seem to bother us until something like this happens,”
Gov. Gavin Newsom, who declared a state of emergency, hopes to phase out drilling by 2045.
“California continues to lead the nation in phasing out fossil fuels and combating the climate crisis,” Newsom said. “This incident serves as a reminder of the enormous cost fossil fuels have on our communities and the environment.”
Contributing: Janet Wilson, The Desert Sun; The Associated Press