Suspected company had dozens of violations in oil spill

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. — The company whose pipeline is suspected in one of the largest oil spills in recent California history has been cited 72 times for safety and environmental violations that were so serious it was necessary to fix the problem. drilling had to be reduced or stopped. , show regulatory records.

Overall, the beta operating company has been cited 125 times since 1980, according to a database from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, the federal agency that regulates the offshore oil and gas industry. The online database only provides the total number of breaches, not the details of each incident.

The company was fined a total of $85,000 for the three incidents. Two were from 2014, when a worker who was not wearing the proper protective equipment was startled by 98,000 volts of lightning, and a separate incident when crude oil was released through a boom where a protective device was improperly applied. was bypassed.

BETA, a subsidiary of Houston-based Amplify Energy, is under investigation following a suspected leak in an underwater pipeline that sent 126,000 gallons (572,807 liters) of heavy crude into the ocean waters near the famous Huntington Beach. and eroding the sands of other coastal communities. . The spill could keep beaches closed for weeks or longer.

Environmentalists feared the oil could devastate birds and marine life in the area. But Michael Ziccardi, a veterinarian and director of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, said so far only three oily birds have been found.

“At this point we are cautiously optimistic about the number of animals that will be affected,” he told a news conference on Monday.

Amplify operates three oil platforms approximately 9 miles (14.5 kilometers) off the coast of California, all installed between 1980 and 1984. The company also operates a 16-inch pipeline that moves oil from a processing platform to an onshore storage facility in Long Beach. The company said the oil is coming from a rupture in that pipeline about 4 miles (6.44 kilometers) from the platform.

Before the spill, Amplify had high hopes for the Beta oil field and was pouring millions of dollars into upgrades and new “side track” projects that would later tap into the oil by drilling.

“We have the opportunity to keep going for as long as we want,” Amplify CEO Martin Wilser said at an August conference call with investors. He said the capacity was “up to 20,000 barrels a day”.

Investors shared Wilser’s optimism, with the company’s stock rising more than seven times from the start of the year to $5.75 at the end of trading Friday. The stock fell more than 40% in morning trading on Monday.

The company filed for bankruptcy in 2017 and came out a few months later. It was using cash generated by Beta Region and others in Oklahoma and Texas to pay off $235 million in debt.

Some residents, business owners and environmentalists questioned whether officials reacted well enough to stop the spill. People living and working in the area said they noticed oil slicks and a heavy petroleum smell on Friday evening.

Booms were deployed on the sea surface on Sunday to try to contain the oil, while divers tried to determine where and why the leak occurred. On land, there was a race to find the oil-damaged animals and prevent them from harming any more sensitive marshlands.

But it wasn’t until Saturday afternoon that the Coast Guard said an oil slick had been spotted and a unified command was set up to respond. And it took until Saturday night for the company to shut down the pipeline.

Rick Torgson, owner of Blue Star Yachts Charter, said Friday evening, “People were emailing, and neighbors were asking, ‘Do you smell it? By Saturday morning, the boats were returning to the marina with their hulls covered with oil, she said.

Gary Brown, president of the environmental group Orange County Coastkeepers, denounced the lack of initial coordination between the Coast Guard and local officials in dealing with the spilling oil spill.

“By the time it comes to the beach, it has already done a lot of damage. Our disappointment is that it could have been avoided if there was a quicker response,” said Brown, who lives in Huntington Beach.

Some oil spilled off the coast of Orange County. City and state beaches at Huntington Beach were closed, and the city of Laguna Beach to the south said late on Sunday that its beaches were closed as well.

Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr said beaches in the community nicknamed “Surf City” could remain closed for weeks or even months. Oil sparkled a mile wide in the sea and washed ashore in sticky black globules.

“In a year that has been fraught with incredibly challenging issues, this oil spill is one of the most devastating situations our community has dealt with in decades,” Carr said. “We are doing everything in our power to protect the health and safety of our residents, our visitors and our natural habitats.”

Amplify CEO Martin Wilsher said Saturday night the pipeline and three of the company’s platforms were shut down. The 17.5-mile (28.16-kilometre) pipeline, which is 80 to 100 feet (24 to 30 m) below the surface, was pulled out so that no more oil spilled during the investigation of the leak.

Crews, led by skimmers deployed by the Coast Guard, laid about 3,700 feet (1,128 m) of floating barriers, known as booms, to allow more oil to seep into areas including the Talbert Marsh, 25-acre (10-hectare) wetland officials said. to try to prevent.

Officials said the oil would continue to wash off the coast for several days and could affect Newport Beach and other nearby communities.

The spill comes three decades after a massive oil spill in the same part of the Orange County coast. On February 7, 1990, the oil tanker American Trader ran over its anchorage at Huntington Beach, spilling about 417,000 gallons (1.6 million liters) of crude oil. Fish and about 3,400 birds were killed.

In 2015, a broken pipeline north of Santa Barbara sent 143,000 gallons (541,313 liters) of crude oil to Refugio State Beach.

The area affected by the latest spill is home to threatened and endangered species, including a plump shorebird called the snowy plover, the California least tern, and the humpback whale.


Associated Press writers Michael Bisecker in Washington, DC, Bernard Condon in New York, Felicia Fonseca in Phoenix and Julie Walker in New York contributed to this report.


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