REGION — Operators of an oil rig in Huntington Beach waited more than three hours to shut down a ruptured pipeline despite receiving a low-pressure alarm early Saturday morning, and it appears a ship’s anchor may have hooked the pipe and caused the leak, according to preliminary findings by federal investigators.
Meanwhile, divers contracted to investigate the source of the massive oil leak off the coast of Orange County confirmed that a large section of the 17.7-mile pipeline was moved out of place by as much as 105 feet, and a 13-inch “split” in the line was detected in the displaced section 4 1/2 miles offshore.
According to the unified command responding to the leak — including the Coast Guard, state Department of Fish & Wildlife and oil rig “Elly” and pipeline operator Amplify Energy —the divers confirmed conditions originally spotted by remotely operated vehicles that were initially sent to inspect the pipe.
Divers confirmed that a 4,000-foot section of the pipeline was “displaced,” or bent laterally by a maximum of 105 feet, and they spotted a 13-inch split in the line at the bend’s peak. Coast Guard Capt. Rebecca Ore said Tuesday the split is the “likely source” of the leak that has spilled as much as 144,000 gallons into the ocean, forcing the closure of Orange County beaches and some harbors.
Ore said no more oil was seen coming out of the 13-inch break in the line. Amplify Energy CEO Martyn Willsher said the split in the line occurred at the point where the pipeline was most severely displaced, by 105 feet. He said the pipeline is a 16-inch steel pipe covered in concrete, indicating it would take a great deal of force to move and rupture it.
Willsher said the “pipeline has been pulled like a bowstring,” and it “is in almost a semi-circle.”
Willsher confirmed Monday that the possibility of a ship’s anchor causing the break was among the options being examined as a potential cause. That possibility gained credence in a corrective action order issued to the company by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s Office of Pipeline Safety. The order was sent to Beta Offshore, a subsidiary of Amplify Energy Corp.
“The root cause of the accident remains unconfirmed at this time,” according to the federal document. “Preliminary reports indicate that the failure may have been caused by an anchor that hooked the pipeline, causing a partial tear.”
According to the document, workers in Beta Offshore’s control room “received a low-pressure alarm on the San Pedro Bay Pipeline, indicating a possible failure at about 2:30 a.m. Saturday. The pipeline, however, was not shut down until 6:01 a.m. Saturday.
Willsher has insisted this week that the company was unaware of a leak until it notified state regulators at about 9 a.m. Saturday, although he said the company believes the leak occurred at roughly 2:30 a.m.
The federal report states that the damaged pipe is about 98 feet below the ocean surface. The pipeline was installed in 1980.
Meanwhile, the Orange County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday ratified an emergency declaration issued the previous day by Board Chairman Andrew Do. The supervisors were meeting in closed session Tuesday afternoon to discuss joining expected litigation related to the spill.
Gov. Gavin Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency in Orange County on Monday night to support the response to the oil spill.
Orange County’s emergency management director Michelle Anderson told supervisors on Tuesday that spill estimates range between 120,000 to 150,000 gallons of oil. The plume has drifted as far south as Dana Point, shutting down harbors from Newport to Dana Point.
Ore said oil will continue flowing south with the current.
As of Tuesday morning, about 4,788 gallons of oil had been recovered and 11,360 feet of boom has been deployed to contain it, officials said.
An estimated 15.67 miles of light oiling has been reported along Orange County shorelines, according to the unified command.
San Diego County ‘ready to respond’ if oil heads south
CARLSBAD — San Diego County officials Wednesday said they were ready to respond should oil from the pipeline break in Orange County make its way into San Diego County waters and beaches.
Nathan Fletcher, chair of the County Board of Supervisors, and Jeff Toney, director of the county’s Office of Emergency Services, said they are in constant communication with state and federal officials about the oil spill’s possible impact on San Diego County.
“It appears some of the oil is making its way south, but it has yet to enter San Diego County waters,” Toney and Fletcher said in a joint statement. “Some protective measures have been put in place by response agencies including a protective boom at the mouth of the Santa Margarita River on Camp Pendleton.
“Right now there is no immediate threat to San Diego County, but our team is prepared for the possibility of oil making its way towards our watersheds, onto our beaches, and affecting local fish, wildlife and ecosystems,” the statement read.
Poseidon Water and the San Diego County Water Authority also issued a joint statement Wednesday in response to the oil spill, detailing how the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad desalination plant has not been impacted.
State requirements require the plant to shut down if the hydrocarbon concentration of source seawater reaches 300 parts per billion.
“While there has been no indication of oil from Orange County reaching Carlsbad, the facility’s operating team will continue to closely monitor intake water quality,” the statement reads.
Poseidon Water and the water authority are working with local, state and federal agencies to assess potential preemptive actions in case conditions change.
If you see any evidence of oil, please contact 1-877-823-6926.
Updates can be found at socalspillresponse.com.