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DOJ Charges 3 Companies For OC Pipeline Break

ORANGE COUNTY (CBSLA) — Three companies have been charged with negligence for the early October oil spill which occurred off the Orange County coast.

"Basically they were lying to the public, lying to us as public officials, as public agencies from literally day one," said Orange County supervisor Katrina Foley. "

The three companies: Amplify Energy Corp.; Beta Operating Co. LLC and San Pedro Bay Pipeline Co. are accused of illegally discharging oil by acting negligently in at least six different ways. The grand jury accuses the companies of failing to properly respond to the numerous leak alarms sent for more than half a day and improperly restarting the pipeline that had been shut down after the leak alarms. Beta and San Pedro Bay are both subsidiaries of Amplify. According to the Department of Justice, even though the pipeline began to leak on the afternoon of Oct. 1, the companies allegedly continued to operate it, on and off, until the following morning.

"This was preventable. We know that now for sure," said Foley.

The Oct. 1 oil spill from the 16-inch pipeline released about 25,000 gallons of crude oil almost five miles off of Huntington Beach.

"Over the course of the timeframe in question, Amplify's offshore platform and onshore pipeline personnel worked together to troubleshoot and rectify what were believed to be false leak detection system alarms," Amplify officials said in a statement.

Major oil spill in Orange County
Corona del Mar, CA - October 06: As the oil spill spreads across Orange County, a team of biologists from the University of California Santa Cruz and Tenera Consulting firm assess the overall biological habitat by counting and categorizing biodiversity of the Little Corona del Mar tide pools, part of the Crystal Cove State Marine Conservation Area Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021 in Newport Beach, CA. Environmental cleanup crews are spreading out across Orange County to cleanup the damage from a major oil spill off the Orange County coast that left crude spoiling beaches, killing fish and birds and threatening local wetlands. The oil slick is believed to have originated from a pipeline leak, pouring 126,000 gallons into the coastal waters. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

In the indictment, the DOJ alleges that the three companies failed to respond to eight alarms from an automated leak detection system. The alarms first started on Oct. 1 at 4:10 p.m. and sounded off six more times at 5:52 p.m., 7:15 p.m., 8:39 p.m., 9:23 p.m., 10:01 p.m., and 11:30 p.m. The eighth and final alarm rang at about 5:28 a.m. The Houston-based company and its subsidiaries did conduct a detection test and sent a boat of non-crewmembers to find an oil discharge, however, they were done in the middle of the night while it was dark.

"Following each alarm, the crews investigated various components of the platform and the pipeline's instrumentalities to determine what could be contributing to what were thought to be false alarms," Amplify said in a statement.

After the first five alarms were triggered, the defendants also allegedly restarted the pipeline five times on Oct. 1 between the hours of 5:10 p.m. and 10:33 p.m. and once more at 11:15 p.m. They continued to restart the pipeline, attempting once again in the early morning of Oct. 2 at 2:27 a.m. and finally at 5:11 a.m. The indictment also indicates that not only were crews operating the pipeline were not properly trained but they were overworked and understaffed.

"Unbeknownst to the crew during this period, and further complicating their efforts, however, was the fact that the pipeline's leak detection system was not functioning as designed, but was repeatedly and wrongly signaling a potential leak at the platform where no leak could be detected by the platform personnel and where no leak was actually occurring," Amplify said.

The company continued by pointing to the anchor-dragging incident which displaced the pipeline by 100 feet. It claimed that if the crew had "known there was an actual oil spill in the water" they would have immediately shut down the pipeline.

According to the DOJ, the charges can carry a maximum penalty of five years of probation and fines totaling millions of dollars. Foley also wants the companies to reimburse the county and its cities for the services as well as local businesses.

"Just think about the air show, think about the surf shops, think about the hotels and all the fishing industry," she said. "They must get reimbursed."

Amplify's full statement can be found here.

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