A ship anchor striking a pipeline carrying crude from an offshore oil platform may have caused 3,000 barrels (126,000 gallons) of oil to spill into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Southern California, according to the CEO of the Houston-based company that owned the rig.
The massive weekend spill resulted in birds covered in oil washing up on shore, along with dead fish. Local beaches were closed while cleanup crews dressed in white coveralls and helmets worked along a beach and wetlands running inland from the ocean on the eastern side of the coastal highway.
The pipeline is connected to an offshore oil rig owned and operated by Beta Offshore, a California subsidiary of Houston-based offshore crude oil producer Amplify Energy Corp . Amplify Energy shares plunged 43% in heavy trading on Monday.
Amplify CEO Martyn Willsher said during a press conference Monday that it was possible a ship anchor could have struck the line. The company has identified an area of interest that could be the source of the leak, which divers will review.
Residents told local news stations that they smelled a foul odor on Friday, but a U.S. Coast Guard spokesperson said the incident was reported to them on Saturday morning. Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley said the timeline of the incident is unclear.
"One of the pieces of the investigation needs to be the timing of the report as to when there was a report of a smell," she said at the press conference. "Mariners and other were reporting they saw a sheen on Friday night."
Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said during the press conference that Amplify's divers should not go near the pipeline without supervision from independent investigators like the U.S. Coast Guard.
“We need to determine independently 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 U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Beta Offshore has three, including the Elly offshore platform, where the pipeline was connected.
That line has been shut off and its remaining oil suctioned out, Willsher said.
Huntington Beach, about 40 miles (65 km) south of Los Angeles, was hit hardest with some 13 square miles (34 square km) of ocean and portions of its coastline "covered in oil," said Mayor Kim Carr. The town, which advertises itself as Surf City USA, is one of the rare places in Southern California where oil platforms are visible from the beach.
The inlet feeds the Magnolia Marsh, a wetlands that was rehabilitated after the Huntington Beach Wetlands Conservancy bought the land in 2008. Up to 90 bird species use the area each year, including eight to 10 that are either endangered or threatened, officials have said.
Huntington Beach pier, a popular surf spot, was closed and the water was empty. Further up the coast at Bolsa Chica State beach, surfer Marty Kish, 45, said he and fellow surfers were angry.
"It's clean out here. I wouldn't go out if there was oil," Kish said. "Everyone's asking, 'How could it happen?'"
Officials deployed 2,050 feet (625 meters) of protective booms, which help contain and slow the oil flows, and about 3,150 gallons had been recovered on Sunday, the U.S. Coast Guard said.
Federal officials have stepped up scrutiny of aging and idled 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 address risks from idled pipelines, platforms and other infrastructure on the sea floor, the watchdog U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) said this year.
"As pipelines age, they are more susceptible to damage from corrosion, mudslides and sea floor erosion," GAO said.
Amplify shares slid 43%, or $2.52 per share, to $3.23. More than 60 million shares changed hands, the busiest trading day in the stock's history.
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