HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif., Oct. 4 (Reuters) – A ship’s anchor hitting a pipeline carrying crude from an offshore oil rig may have spilled 3,000 barrels (126,000 gallons) of oil into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of southern California, according to the CEO of the Houston-based company that owned the platform.
The massive weekend spill resulted in oil-covered birds being thrown ashore, along with dead fish. Local beaches were closed as clean-up crews dressed in white overalls and helmets worked along a beach and wetlands stretching from the ocean to inland on the east side of the coastal road.
The pipeline is connected to an offshore oil platform owned and operated by Beta Offshore, a California subsidiary of Houston-based offshore crude oil producer Amplify Energy Corp (AMPY.N). Amplify Energy shares plunged 43% in intense trading on Monday.
Amplify CEO Martyn Willsher told a press conference on Monday that it was possible that a ship’s anchor had struck the line. The company has identified an area of interest that could be the source of the leak, which divers will examine.
Residents told local news stations they smelled a foul odor on Friday, but a US Coast Guard spokesman said the incident was reported to them on Saturday morning. Orange County supervisor Katrina Foley said the timeline of the incident was unclear.
“One of the elements of the investigation must be when the report was made as to when an odor was reported,” she said at the press conference. “Sailors and others reported seeing a flash on Friday night.”
Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer told the press conference that Amplify divers should not approach the pipeline without the supervision of independent investigators like the US Coast Guard.
“We have to independently determine what happened, how it happened and who is responsible,” he said.
Some 23 oil and gas production facilities operate in federal waters off the California coast, according to the United States Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Beta Offshore has three, including the Elly offshore platform, where the pipeline was connected.
That line was shut down and its remaining oil was sucked out, Willsher said.
Huntington Beach, about 65 km south of Los Angeles, was the hardest hit with about 34 km2 of ocean and portions of its coastline “covered in oil,” Mayor Kim Carr said. The city, which goes by the name of Surf City USA, is one of the few places in Southern California where oil rigs are visible from the beach. Read more
The cove feeds into the Magnolia Marsh, a wetland that was rehabilitated after the Huntington Beach Wetlands Conservancy purchased the land in 2008. Up to 90 species of birds use the area each year, eight to 10 of which are on track. missing or threatened, officials said.
The pier at Huntington Beach, a popular surf spot, was closed and the water was empty. Further up the coast on the beach in Bolsa Chica state, surfer Marty Kish, 45, said he and other surfers were angry.
“It’s clean in here. I wouldn’t go out if there was oil,” Kish said. “Everyone asks, ‘How could this have happened? “”
Authorities deployed 2,050 feet (625 meters) of protective booms, which help contain and slow the flow of oil, and about 3,150 gallons were recovered on Sunday, the U.S. Coast Guard said.
Federal officials have stepped up their scrutiny of aging and inactive offshore energy pipelines. Energy companies have built 40,000 miles (64,000 km) of oil and gas pipelines in federal offshore waters since the 1940s.
Regulators have failed to consider the risks associated with unused pipelines, platforms and other infrastructure on the seabed, the U.S. watchdog Government Accountability Office (GAO) said this year.
“As pipelines age, they are more susceptible to damage from corrosion, mudslides and seabed erosion,” GAO said.
Amplify shares slipped 43%, or $ 2.52 per share, to $ 3.23. Over 60 million shares changed hands, the busiest trading day in stock history.
Reporting by Jonathan Allen, Gene Blevins and Jessica Resnick Ault; Editing by Gary McWilliams, David Gaffen and David Gregorio
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