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US Delay after alarm puts California spill response in question

07:25  06 october  2021
07:25  06 october  2021 Source:   msn.com

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Amplify Energy’s emergency response plan for a major oil spill like the one it’s now dealing with in coastal Southern California depended heavily on a quick shutdown of the San Pedro Bay Pipeline if its sensors picked up a sudden loss of pressure. That’s not what happened, investigators revealed Tuesday.

Workers clean oil from the sand, south of the pier, in Newport Beach, Calif., Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. A leak in an oil pipeline caused a spill off the coast of Southern California, sending about 126,000 gallons of oil into the ocean, some ending up on beaches in Orange County. (Jeff Gritchen/The Orange County Register via AP) © Provided by Associated Press Workers clean oil from the sand, south of the pier, in Newport Beach, Calif., Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. A leak in an oil pipeline caused a spill off the coast of Southern California, sending about 126,000 gallons of oil into the ocean, some ending up on beaches in Orange County. (Jeff Gritchen/The Orange County Register via AP)

After an alarm went off in a company control room at 2:30 a.m. Saturday — signaling a rupture that would spill tens of thousands of gallons of crude into the Pacific Ocean — the company waited more than three hours to shut down the pipeline, at 6:01 a.m., according to preliminary findings of an investigation into the spill.

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Workers clean oil from the sand south of the pier in Newport Beach, Calif., Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. A leak in an oil pipeline caused a spill off the coast of Southern California, sending about 126,000 gallons of oil into the ocean, some ending up on beaches in Orange County. (Jeff Gritchen/The Orange County Register via AP) © Provided by Associated Press Workers clean oil from the sand south of the pier in Newport Beach, Calif., Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. A leak in an oil pipeline caused a spill off the coast of Southern California, sending about 126,000 gallons of oil into the ocean, some ending up on beaches in Orange County. (Jeff Gritchen/The Orange County Register via AP)

The Houston-based company took another three hours to notify the U.S. Coast Guard's National Response Center for oil spills, investigators said, further slowing the response to an accident for which Amplify workers spent years preparing.

Amplify Energy Corp. CEO Martyn Willsher discusses the Huntington Beach oil spill during a news conference in Long Beach, Calif., Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. Willsher said company divers were inspecting the area of the suspected leak reported Saturday. Willsher said an anchor from a cargo ship striking the pipeline is © Provided by Associated Press Amplify Energy Corp. CEO Martyn Willsher discusses the Huntington Beach oil spill during a news conference in Long Beach, Calif., Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. Willsher said company divers were inspecting the area of the suspected leak reported Saturday. Willsher said an anchor from a cargo ship striking the pipeline is "one of the distinct possibilities" behind the leak. The Coast Guard received the first report of a possible oil spill more than 12 hours before the company reported a major leak in its pipeline and a cleanup effort was launched, records show. (AP Photo/Stefanie Dazio)

“How come it took so long? That’s a fair question,” said Richard Kuprewicz, a pipeline consultant and private accident investigator from Redmond, Washington. “If you have any doubt, your action should be to shut down and close. ... Something’s not quite right here.”

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Pipeline control room alarms don’t always mean a leak and can be tripped by numerous factors — from a faulty signal from a sensor along the line, to a pump that goes offline and causes a sudden pressure change, according to Kuprewicz and other industry experts. But the alarms also are supposed to trigger immediate follow-up actions to quickly ascertain if anything is wrong.

It’s uncertain why that process dragged out hours in San Pedro Bay, potentially worsening a spill that left some birds coated with oil and has stirred worries about broader environmental impacts.

The cause of the pipeline break just offshore from Los Angeles remains under investigation. Early findings point to a ship anchor possibly catching the line and dragging it across the seafloor, tearing a gash in the half-inch-thick (12.7 millimeter) steel pipe.

The timeline of the company’s response appears to contradict statements from Amplify’s CEO, Martyn Willshire, who told reporters on Monday that the company first became aware of the spill after receiving a report from a boat of a sheen in the water.

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Willshire acknowledged the company’s equipment was supposed to help detect spills, then said, “we did not have any notice that there was a leak” prior to the sheen report.

In documents released Tuesday detailing the company’s actions, federal transportation officials did not comment on the time lag in shutting down the line or reveal any potential explanation that the Amplify executives may have offered.

Company representatives did not respond to emailed questions about the delay between the alarm and the shutdown.

Problems with faulty leak detection procedures have plagued the industry for years, including during a massive 2010 oil spill that polluted 40 miles (64 kilometers) of Michigan's Kalamazoo River. In that case, an Enbridge Inc. pipeline leaked at least 843,000 gallons (3.2 million liters) of crude over 17 hours, even as alarms kept going off in a company control room.

This Oct. 22, 2012, photo provided by the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, BSEE, shows the platforms Ellen and Elly offshore near Long Beach, Calif., in the BSEE's Pacific Region. Officials said late Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, that at least 126,000 gallons (572,807 liters) of crude spilled into the waters off Orange County from a pipeline that runs to shore from an oil platform maintained by Beta Operating Company, a subsidiary of Houston-based Amplify. (Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement via AP) © Provided by Associated Press This Oct. 22, 2012, photo provided by the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, BSEE, shows the platforms Ellen and Elly offshore near Long Beach, Calif., in the BSEE's Pacific Region. Officials said late Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, that at least 126,000 gallons (572,807 liters) of crude spilled into the waters off Orange County from a pipeline that runs to shore from an oil platform maintained by Beta Operating Company, a subsidiary of Houston-based Amplify. (Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement via AP)

The company later settled pollution violations in the case for $176 million.

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The accident spurred calls for more stringent leak detection rules and the installation of more automatic or remote-control shut-off valves that can quickly halt the flow of oil in a leak.

A dearth of such valves was also cited in another 2010 pipeline accident — a natural gas transmission line explosion in San Bruno, California, that left eight dead and dozens injured after the line continued burning like a massive blowtorch for almost 90 minutes before the line was shut down manually.

Federal officials began crafting new leak detection and valve rules under former President Barack Obama, but they were never finalized.

A new rule proposed last year under former President Donald Trump and now awaiting final approval would mandate more valves only for new or replaced oil pipelines, not the thousands of miles that are already in use. The change came after oil industry lobbying groups including the American Petroleum Institute said retrofitting lines with valves would cost up to $1.5 million per device.

The pending rule does not set standards for leak detections, giving companies significant leeway in how sensitive to leaks their equipment needs to be, said Bill Caram with the Pipeline Safety Trust, a Bellingham, Washington-based group that advocates for safer pipelines.

“It makes us worry for our country's aging energy infrastructure,” Caram said. "We fear this could become a bigger and bigger issue."

John Stoody with the Association of Oil Pipe Lines said companies and industry groups are working hard to improve leak detection technologies. Fine-tuning equipment is part of that, to make sure companies can detect even small leaks but not have to respond to false alarms.

“If you're riddled with false alarms, people have a harder time reacting,” Stoody said.

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Follow Matthew Brown on Twitter: @MatthewBrownAP

EXPLAINER: What's happening with the California oil spill? .
HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Oil has been washing up on some Southern California beaches since a leak in an underwater pipeline from an offshore platform sent tens of thousands of gallons of heavy crude into the ocean waters. The spill fouled the famed sands of Huntington Beach, known as Surf City USA, and could keep the ocean and shoreline closed there and in some other communities to the south for weeks. Here’s a look at what happened, who’s involved and the aftermath:WHAT HAPPENED?Boaters off Orange County and residents of Newport Beach started reporting a petroleum smell in the air and oily sheen on the water Friday afternoon, Oct. 1.

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