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Investigation continues after oil spill off California coast

Written by on October 6, 2021

(LOS ANGELES) — Officials are continuing their investigation into what caused a pipeline in the Pacific Ocean to leak hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil, with cleanup efforts continuing along California’s southern coast.

Up to 350 people were participating in cleanups on a 30-mile stretch of beaches and marsh from from Huntington Beach to Dana Point, officials from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife told reporters at a news conference Wednesday.

Crews in the air were identifying affected locations and alerting cleanup teams, said Captain Rebecca Ore of the Coast Guard’s Long Beach branch. “Everybody here is absolutely committed to cleaning up our much-loved California beaches.”

Michael Ziccardi, director of California’s Oiled Wildlife Care Network, said the organization has collected 13 live birds and two dead birds affected by the oil. Four live snowy Plovers, an endangered species, also were found in Huntington Beach.

An estimated 5,000 gallons of oil has been recovered from the water and beaches, Ziccardi added.

Up to 144,00 gallons of crude oil leaked into the ocean after the pipeline, about 4.5 miles off the California coast, known as Elly, was damaged on Saturday morning.

The pipeline was no longer pumping oil as of approximately 8 a.m. Saturday, and the Coast Guard was notified of the leak at that time, said Amplify Energy Corporation CEO Martyn Willsher.

But officials have alleged that the leak actually was discovered more than eight hours earlier. Orange County supervisor Katrina Foley said over the weekend that the pipeline was likely leaking before the damage was discovered Saturday morning, and officials from a division of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife stated in a report that they were notified of an “observed sheen” off the Huntington Beach coast at 10:22 p.m. Friday, according to documents obtained by ABC News.

The U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration demanded the failed pipeline be repaired in a letter to Amplify Energy Corp. on Tuesday. The letter, addressed by the associate administrator for pipeline safety, said the oil platform’s control room received low-pressure alarms on the San Pedro Bay Pipeline around 2:30 a.m. PDT Saturday, indicating a possible failure. But the line was not shut down until 6:01 a.m. — 3 1/2 hours later.

Robert Bea, co-director of the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management at the University of California, Berkeley cast doubt on Amplify Energy’s claim that the pipeline was shut down at 2:30 a.m. Saturday.

Bea hypothesized that if the first sightings of the sheen came Friday night, and a large plume of oil was visible from satellite imagery shortly thereafter, the low-pressure alarms would have sounded in the control rooms soon after the leak began, unless the alarms were faulty.

No abnormalities were found when the pipeline was cleaned last week or during an annual spill drill in 2020, Willsher said, adding that he expected the total loss of oil to be lower, given that the damage to the pipeline was just a 13-inch crack.

“We want to do everything we can to ensure that this situation and this release gets resolved as quickly as possible so that these beautiful areas can be restored, and all of the residents and businesses can get back to normal as quickly as possible,” Willsher said.

It’s unclear why the company didn’t stop pumping sooner, Bea told ABC News.

A class-action lawsuit was filed against the companies that run the oil line on Monday.

ABC News’ Matt Gutman and Jenna Harrison contributed to this report.

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