LOS ANGELES, Oct. 8 (Reuters) – The company that operates the pipeline that spilled about 3,000 barrels of oil into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California has an 800-page manual on how to deal with an oil spill. oil – but it is not clear whether its employees followed these procedures.
Houston-based Amplify Energy Corp and several federal and state regulatory agencies have provided different accounts of what happened on October 2, when the pipeline spill that tainted beaches, killed wildlife, and shut down the area. fishing for miles of coast has been officially reported.
The US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) said that Beta Offshore, a subsidiary of Amplify that operates the pipeline, received a low pressure warning in its control room around 2:30 a.m. PT (5 a.m. 30 EDT) on October 10. 2, sign of a line break.
The leak detection alarm should have triggered quick phone calls to managers, boat crews, regulators and the US Coast Guard, and quickly put in motion to shut down the pipeline and the platform that was there. feed, according to 10 former and current Beta Offshore employees. and contractors, as well as a copy of the company’s spill response plan reviewed by Reuters.
But the San Pedro Bay pipeline was not closed until 6 a.m., about three and a half hours later, according to the PHMSA schedule.
Amplify CEO Martyn Willsher said the company was not aware of the spill until mid-morning.
“We weren’t aware of any spills until 8:09 am (Pacific) on Saturday morning,” he said at a press conference on Wednesday. He noted that the line was cut around 6 am, but did not explain why or for how long, adding: “We were not pumping oil at 8:09 am when we discovered oil on the water. “
In response to a question from a reporter on Wednesday about the 2:30 am alarm, Willsher said, “We were not aware of any alarms at 2:30 am.”
He also said the company was investigating the schedule and “working with regulators to see if there was anything that should have been noticed.”
Amplify did not respond to requests for comment on the remark. The company also did not respond to several other requests for comment.
Tom Haug, a third-party contractor listed as the incident commander in the response plan, asked questions of Amplify’s official spokesperson.
The 16-inch-diameter, 17-mile-long pipeline connects Amplify’s offshore Elly oil production platform to Long Beach, where oil is stored and transported for refining.
The volume of the spill is tiny compared to others that triggered regulatory changes, such as the 2010 Deepwater Horizon platform explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, which released more than 5 million barrels of oil into the spill. the water.
Nonetheless, this raises questions about the effectiveness of government-mandated spill response plans, which aim to ensure companies respond quickly to minimize pollution and public hazards.
The cause of the spill in California is under investigation. Authorities are investigating whether the rupture could have been caused by a collision with a ship’s anchor. Investigators found that a section of the pipeline had moved 105 feet and had a 13-inch slot parallel to the pipe.
Residents and nearby ships said they first noticed foul odors and a glow on the water on Friday evening, according to the US National Response Center, the designated point of contact for environmental accidents. The US Coast Guard said reports of this type are frequent and do not always indicate a spill.
“In general – For spill response – Don’t delay. Plan ahead. Respond excessively and stop if necessary. Don’t fall behind in the curve,” says the response plan Amplify, by defining a 15-step action plan to respond to spills.
Amplify produced 3,600 barrels per day on its California rigs in the second quarter of this year, making it the state’s second-largest offshore producer.
Federal regulators mandated in 1994 that operators be trained to shut down pipelines and platforms in the event of a leak or rupture. Former Amplify employees said the company has held such training for the past two years.
Amplify has not confirmed whether these efforts continued during the COVID-19 pandemic. But California Office of Spill Prevention and Response records show Beta conducted an exercise virtually using the Microsoft Teams platform last year. Another was scheduled for next month.
Software specifically designed for the platform monitors the pressure status of pumps along the pipeline, two former employees said.
Sensors on the pipeline can notify an operator on the Elly platform if the pressure changes, triggering an immediate shutdown and stopping the flow of crude through the pipeline.
“After detecting a single barrel, the pipeline should have closed,” said a former employee familiar with the line’s operations.
Willsher said this week that Amplify employees monitor the pipeline by boat every week. The company is examining the chemical properties of the oil to make sure iron levels aren’t high, which would indicate deterioration of a pipe, said another former employee familiar with the procedure.
A third former employee recalled that inspectors from the US Bureau of Environmental Safety and Enforcement (BSEE) frequently visit the rig and examine its connections to pipelines. Inspections were meticulous and lasted for weeks, and citations were issued for even the smallest items, such as corrosion on a handrail, one employee said.
Inspection reports two years ago determined the pipeline was in good condition and anomalies in the metal walls detected in previous inspections had been corrected, according to a summary of an inspector’s report from October 2019 , filed with the BSEE in April 2020.
Reporting by Jessica Resnick-Ault and Nichola Groom; edited by Rich Valdmanis, David Gaffen and Gerry Doyle
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