(Trends Wide) — Authorities believe they have identified the source of the oil spill off the California coast that has closed beaches and threatened wildlife. But as more information about the ecological emergency is revealed, more questions arise.
The source of the spill that dumped as much as 144,000 gallons of crude oil into the Pacific Ocean likely narrowed to a 13-inch fracture found in a 1,200-meter section of pipe that had been stretched about 32 meters to one side, authorities said.
“The pipeline has essentially been stretched like a bowstring. So at its widest point, it’s about 32 meters from where it was. So it’s almost a semicircle,” said Martyn Willsher, CEO of Amplify Energy, in a press conference this Tuesday.
The discovery can provide information about the source of the leak, but not the cause. Authorities are still investigating what precipitated the displacement and fracture in the pipeline.
The 43-kilometer-long, 41-year-old pipeline is about 100 feet underwater. Measuring approximately 40 cm in diameter, the steel pipe is lined with concrete along the ocean floor.
A preliminary report indicates that the partial fracture could have been caused by an anchor that snagged the pipeline, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said in a notice to Amplify Energy, which owns the the pipe is broken.
There is no confirmation from a ship on the site of the spill. However, a response team is working with other agencies to determine if a ship was in the area, said Capt. Rebecca Ore, commanding officer of the US Coast Guard Sector in Los Angeles-Long Beach.
In the department of transportation’s “corrective action order”, Amplify Energy aims to shut down the affected pipeline completely, provide maintenance and inspection records, and complete a root cause analysis of the failure, among other requirements. Only then can you submit a plan to resume operation.
Authorities investigating the leak also sought on Tuesday to clarify the timeline for when authorities and the pipeline company learned of the spill and what they did in response.
The Unified Command said the National Response Center first received a report of an unknown glow from an unknown source on Friday night.
“These types of reports are common and, in many cases, the reported shine can be a natural oil leak or shine that is never found,” Unified Command said in a press release. “NOAA satellite images were released to agencies early in the morning, reporting a possible oil anomaly.”
Crews from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response went to investigate before dawn, but conditions were hazy and the crew returned to shore, authorities said.
“The Coast Guard and the Orange County Sheriff fanned out at dawn, once the fog lifted, to investigate. A Coast Guard aircraft was diverted to support the investigation. On Saturday morning, the company confirmed a release of oil from a pipeline, “Unified Command said.
The timeline confirms that California authorities were notified Friday night of reports of an oil sheen at the site of the spill, more than 12 hours before Amplify Energy Corp., the line’s operator, lowered it. will report to state and federal officials, according to documents reviewed by Trends Wide.
At a news conference Monday, Amplify’s Willsher said company staff detected brightness on Saturday morning, not Friday night. Willsher said that while there is equipment to detect a leak without visibly seeing the oil spills, there were no warnings of a possible leak on the line before Saturday.
Timing is important because of the number of people potentially affected by Saturday’s spill, Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley said.
“There were hundreds of boaters off the Huntington Beach shoreline because we had an air show,” Foley said. “There were hundreds of boaters coming and going from Catalina to Orange County.”
Cleaning up the devastation of the oil spill
Huntington Beach once had a sign that said “Surf City USA.” A new sign on Monday read “Beach open, ocean and shoreline closed.”
In one section of the beach, workers in hazmat suits and rakes cleaned up tar balls from the spill, while beachgoers and their dogs ran among them.
And a little further south, teams in white hazmat suits worked to protect the fragile wetland ecosystem near the mouth of the Santa Ana River, a crucial habitat for migratory birds that is now shrouded in glistening ribbons of oil.
On Monday, Governor Gavin Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency due to the spill. “The state is moving to cut red tape and mobilize all available resources to protect public health and the environment,” he said in a statement.
The spill, which runs from Huntington Beach to Laguna Beach, is likely to move further south due to wind and currents, the Coast Guard said.
This spill is just the latest incident of its kind off the coast of California, including the 1969 one of up to 4.2 million gallons of crude oil near Santa Barbara. Locally, Huntington Beach suffered the brunt of a spill of about 417,000 gallons of crude oil in 1990 when a tanker hit its anchor and pierced its hull.
The volume of the current spill pales in comparison to the most serious oil spills in history, including the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska (11 million gallons) and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico. (134 million gallons).
Impact on the ecological reserve
As of Tuesday morning, approximately 4,800 gallons of oil had been recovered from the water and approximately 3,500 meters of barrier had been deployed, a term for floating barriers designed to contain an oil spill.
Dead birds and fish have already washed ashore, according to Foley, who has been providing updates on Twitter.
“This has devastated our California coastline in Orange County and is having a tremendous impact on our ecological reserves as well as our economy,” Foley told Trends Wide. “We need answers and the public deserves answers.”
Eight birds were recovered from the oil spill, according to the OWCN, including a brown pelican that was euthanized due to a wing injury.
For some, this latest incident is a sign of the need for change to protect the environment.
“As California continues to lead the nation in phasing out fossil fuels and fighting the climate crisis, this incident serves as a reminder of the enormous cost fossil fuels take on our communities,” Newsom said Monday. “Destructive offshore drilling practices sacrifice our public health, the economy and our environment.”
Amir Vera, Cheri Mossburg, Stella Chan, Susannah Cullinane, Claudia Dominguez, Chris Isidore, Julia Jones, Eric Levenson, Sara Sidner, Sarah Moon, Alta Spells, Joe Sutton, Sonnet Swire, Camila Bernal, and Trends Wide’s Anna-Maja Rappard contributed to this report.