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Records show slow response to oil spill

China Daily | Updated: 2021-10-06 08:46
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A fish swims under oil slicks in the Talbert Channel after a major oil spill off the coast of California has come ashore in Huntington Beach, California, on Sunday. [Photo/Agencies]

HUNTINGTON BEACH, California-The United States Coast Guard received the first report of a possible oil spill off the Southern Californian coast more than 12 hours before a company reported a major leak in its pipeline and a cleanup effort was launched, records show.

Oil spill reports reviewed on Monday by media raise questions about the Coast Guard's response to one of the state's largest oil spills, as well as how quickly Amplify Energy, the company operating three offshore platforms and the pipeline, recognized it had a problem and notified authorities.

Two early calls about the spill were received by the National Response Center, which is staffed by the Coast Guard and notifies other agencies for quick response of disasters. The first was from an anchored ship that noticed a sheen on the water. The second call, made six hours later, was from a federal agency that said a possible oil slick was spotted on satellite imagery, according to reports by the California Office of Emergency Services.

Federal and state authorities require rapid reporting of a spill. Failure to do so led to criminal prosecutions against Plains All American Pipeline, which caused a coastal spill near Santa Barbara in 2015, and Southern California Gas for a massive well blowout later that year.

Justice Department officials and federal investigators are investigating to determine if any criminal liability exists in relation to the latest oil spill, said Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the US Attorney's Office.

The spill sent up to 126,000 gallons (476,960 liters) of heavy crude into the ocean off Huntington Beach, and then washing onto miles of beaches and protected marshland. The beaches could remain closed for weeks or longer, a major hit to the local economy. Coastal fisheries in the area were also closed to commercial and recreational fishing.

State of emergency

Californian Governor Gavin Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency in Orange County, directing state agencies "to undertake immediate and aggressive action to clean up and mitigate the effects" of the spill.

Experts said it is too early to determine the full environmental impact, but the number of animals found harmed is minimal so far.

Coast Guard officials on Monday said investigators are looking into whether a ship's anchor may have struck a pipeline on the ocean floor.

Amplify Energy CEO Martyn Willsher said company divers were inspecting the area of the suspected leak reported on Saturday, and he expected to have a clearer picture of what caused the damage by Tuesday. Willsher said an anchor from a cargo ship striking the pipeline is "one of the distinct possibilities" behind the leak.

Cargo ships entering the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach routinely pass through the area. Backlogs have plagued the ports in recent months, and several dozen or more of the giant vessels have regularly been anchored as they wait to enter the ports and unload.

Meanwhile, a class-action lawsuit was filed late on Monday against Amplify Energy over the massive oil spill, demanding monetary damages for the "environmental catastrophe".

In a 13-page document filed in a Los Angeles federal court, the Houston-based company and its Beta Offshore division, which own the offshore oil production facility from which the oil spilled, were listed as the defendants.

Agencies - Xinhua

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