The Orange County Board of Supervisors and a Houston-based energy company which owns the oil platform and pipeline subsidiaries responsible for the 2021 Orange County oil spill, agreed to a $956,352 settlement this week over the associated costs of cleaning up the spill.
The spill, first detected on October 1, 2021, was caused by a 13-inch split in the pipeline. Officials believe that the pipeline that sprung the leak had likely been dragged for over 100 feet in early 2021 by a container ship with its anchor down. The pipeline, which connects the Elly drilling platform off the coast to the Long Beach Harbor, then finally broke open, sending 3,000 barrels, or, 126,000 gallons, of post production crude oil into the ocean, becoming larger than other recent oil spills in California, such as the Refugio oil spill in Santa Barbara County in 2015.
The spill threatened area beaches for a week, with Governor Gavin Newsom declaring the spill a State of Emergency due to the ecological effects, on October 5th. While beaches reopened quickly, with most only staying closed around a week, the economic losses are staggering, with federal disaster assistance for businesses beginning to come in in late October.
While cleanup efforts coordinated by the U.S. Coast Guard, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW), and Orange and San Diego Counties continued until the end of December, several environmental groups brought forth lawsuits against the federal government over not revising platform plans since the early 1980’s. At the same time, the federal government indicted Houston-based Amplify Energy Corp., and it’s two subsidiaries, Beta Operating Co. and San Pedro Bay Pipeline Co., over their role in the spill, alleging that fatigued workers were slow to react to the spill and that pipeline operations continued for sometime after the spill had been detected. In turn, Amplify also sued ship operators and a marine traffic group in February for not preventing the pipeline damage in the first place.
A settlement with Amplify
That led to the settlement agreement this week. According to the settlement agreed upon with the County, $238,000 of the nearly $1 million settlement would go to the Orange County Public Works Department for their efforts in keeping oil out of nearby wetlands. The County Sheriff’s Department received the second highest amount, $137,000 for harbor patrol costs. The rest is to be split off for smaller cleanup effort amounts, as well as health agency costs, legal costs, and environmental contractors.
“The settlement amount is backfilling the costs we incurred from the oil spill itself,” said Orange County spokeswoman Molly Nichelson in a statement.
Many noted the unusual turnaround time for the settlement amount, as oil spill settlements often take years in courts to get to an agreed-upon amount.
“It’s a good settlement for the taxpayers because we got the work done, we responded quickly, we got the oil cleaned up – and we got reimbursed for doing all the work in less than a year,” noted Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley.
The outstanding court cases have yet to be settled or ruled on as of Thursday. The pipeline is also currently in the process of being restarted again following following the legislative rejection of a bill that would have ended offshore oil and gas drilling earlier this year.
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