HSE & Sustainability

A Ship’s Anchor May Be California Crude Spill Culprit

The investigation and cleanup of the oil spill, originating from a rupture in an Amplify Energy pipeline in the Beta field, is ongoing.

Newport beach oil spill. Amplify Energy sourced.
Aerial view of containment operations related to the oil spilled from a break in a pipeline off Southern California owned by Amplify Energy.
Source: US Coast Guard

An oil spill offshore California that leaked around 140,000 bbl of crude into the Pacific Ocean appears to have been caused by a foot-long split found in a 4,000-ft section of pipeline that had been pulled more than 100 ft from its original location. Authorities are continuing the investigation, but current beliefs are that the pipe was snagged and dragged by a ship’s anchor. The leak has now stopped, and the pipeline has been secured. The 17-mile-long, 16-in.-diameter pipeline belongs to Amplify Energy and is part of the Beta field offshore Huntington Beach, California.

“The pipeline has essentially been pulled like a bow string,” said Martyn Willsher, chief executive of Amplify Energy, at a news conference Tuesday. “And so, at its widest point it is about 105 feet away from where it was. So, it is kind of an almost a semicircle.”

Amplify said earlier that on Saturday, 2 October, Beta Offshore (a subsidiary of Amplify Energy) first observed and notified the US Coast Guard of an oil sheen approximately 4 miles off the coast in Southern California and initiated its Oil Spill Prevention and Response Plan. The company has sent a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to investigate and attempt to confirm the source of the release. As a precautionary measure, all the company’s production and pipeline operations at the Beta field were shut down.

The US Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said in a notice to Amplify that a ship anchor snagging and pulling the line could have been the cause of the rupture. Authorities are trying to pinpoint the exact time of the rupture and whether a ship was in the immediate area. There are dozens of cargo ships filling the waters off Southern California waiting for access to the Port of Los Angeles near Long Beach to the north. The coronavirus-induced backlog of ships waiting for offload has reached record numbers over the past several weeks.

On Monday, California Governor Gavin Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency in Orange County to support the emergency response to the oil spill.

“The state is moving to cut red tape and mobilize all available resources to protect public health and the environment,” said Governor Newsom. “As California continues to lead the nation in phasing out fossil fuels and combating the climate crisis, this incident serves as a reminder of the enormous cost fossil fuels have on our communities and the environment.”

As of the morning of 5 October, 4,788 gallons of crude oil had been recovered. An estimated 15.67 miles of light oiling was reported along shorelines. Six miles of shoreline had been cleaned, and 11,360 ft of containment boom had been deployed. The beaches affected by the spill could be shuttered for weeks as cleanup crews attempt to remove oil and tar balls from the shore. Animal rescuers have also been on location tending to any marine life impacted by the oil.

Amplify will not be able to restart the pipeline without extensive inspections and testing, according to an order from the Department of Transportation.

Spill investigators are also questioning the timeline of events in Amplify’s reaction to the emergency. An alarm signaling a loss in pipeline pressure was said to have gone off at 2:30 am on Saturday, 2 October. However, the operator did not shut down the pipeline until 6:01am, according to investigators. Amplify then took an additional 3 hours to notify the US Coast Guard’s National Response Center, which investigators said further slowed the response to the spill.