LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) – Evidence emerged on Tuesday that a ship’s anchor snagged and dragged an underwater pipeline that ruptured and spilled tens of thousands of gallons of oil Brut off Southern California, a crash the Coast Guard admitted it had not investigated for nearly 10 hours after the first call arrived about a possible leak.
The pipe was split and a huge section was apparently dragged over 100 feet (30.5 meters) along the ocean floor, possibly by “an anchor that caught the pipeline, causing a partial tear. “said federal transportation investigators.
“The pipeline has basically been pulled like a bowstring,” said Martyn Willsher, CEO of Amplify Energy Corp., which operates the pipeline. “At its widest point, it is 105 feet (32 meters) from where it was.”
The spill sent up to 126,000 gallons (572,807 liters) of heavy crude into the ocean off Huntington Beach, then spilled onto miles of beaches and a protected marsh. The beaches could remain closed for weeks or more, a big blow to the local economy. Coastal fishing in the area is closed to commercial and recreational fishing.
The time of the spill was still unclear on Tuesday and there was no indication whether investigators suspected a particular vessel was involved.
Coast Guard officials defended their decision to wait until sunrise to investigate a possible spill first reported by a commercial vessel at 8:22 p.m. Friday near a cluster of boats anchored off Huntington Beach .
This observation was supported by a report to the National Response Center, a dangerous spill hotline operated by the Coast Guard, at 2:06 a.m. Saturday from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which said satellite images showed the strong probability of an oil spill.
Residents at nearby Newport Beach also complained about a strong smell of petroleum on Friday, and police have issued a public advisory about it.
The Coast Guard was alerted to a shard in the water by a “good samaritan,” but lacked sufficient corroborating evidence and was hampered by the darkness and lack of technology to search for the spill, said an official at the Associated Press.
Rear Admiral Brian Penoyer said the Coast Guard aired a program to the many cargo ships and tankers anchored off the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, as well as oil rigs, seeking more information but no ‘having received no response.
Coast Guard Captain Rebecca Ore then disputed this account. She said the coast guard had not released any information to ships or oil rigs and Penoyer later said he needed to verify his facts.
Penoyer said it was quite common to get reports of oil reflections in a large seaport.
“Looking back, it seems obvious, but they didn’t know it at the time,” Penoyer said. “So putting yourself in what they knew is a very normal process.”
Federal pipeline safety investigators set the time of the spill at 2:30 a.m. on Saturday, when they said an alarm sounded in the control room of an offshore oil rig indicating the pressure had fallen into the pipeline, indicating a possible leak.
Willsher said the company was not aware of the spill until it saw a shard in the water at 8:09 a.m.
The pipeline company did not report the spill until around 9 a.m. on Saturday. At that time, the Coast Guard had been on the water for a few hours and then discovered the spill.
The company’s spill response plan provides for immediate notification of a spill. Criminal charges have been laid in the past when it took too long to notify federal and state authorities of a spill.
Several different agencies are investigating the spill, including local and federal prosecutors.
California Governor Gavin Newsom said the pipeline had a final internal inspection in October 2019 and an external inspection in April 2020. He said the pipeline was to undergo a second internal inspection upon completion. of the month. Newsom said no issues were reported during the inspections.
Speaking at a press conference, he reiterated his calls to move beyond oil, although environmentalists say he hasn’t done enough in that regard.
“It is time, once and for all, to get over the fact that this must be part of our future. It’s part of our past, ”he said from Bolsa Chica State Beach, where he was joined by local, state and federal officials to discuss the spill.
The segment of the pipe that ruptured was three-quarters of a mile (1.2 kilometers) long and the notch was over a foot (30 centimeters) wide, the Coast Guard said.
The line break occurred about 5 miles offshore at a depth of about 98 feet (30 meters), investigators said. These findings were included in an order from the Department of Transportation that prevented the company from restarting the pipeline without extensive inspections and testing.
The order did not identify the source of the investigators’ information, and agency officials did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.
Associated Press editors Christopher Weber in Los Angeles, Kathleen Ronayne in Sacramento, Michael Biesecker in Washington, and Amy Taxin in Huntington Beach, Calif., Contributed to this report.
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