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Ellen and Elly offshore oil platforms nearby Long Beach (Photo: Bureau of Safety and Environmental/Public Domain)

Pipeline Involved In 2021 Orange County Oil Spill To Reopen

‘The mood here is kind of forgiving’

By Evan Symon, April 11, 2023 5:45 pm

Amplify Energy announced on Monday that the oil pipeline severed during the October 2021 Orange County oil spill would be going back into service soon, roughly over a year and a half of repairs and legal issues kept it offline.

The spill, first detected on October 1st, 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 earlier this year 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 a State of Emergency due to the ecological effects. While beaches reopened quickly, with most only closed around a week, the economic losses were staggering, with federal disaster assistance for businesses beginning 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, several environmental groups brought 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.

After cleanup ended in late 2021, multiple lawsuits were filed and settled throughout 2022. The Orange County Board of Supervisors reached a $1 million settlement with Amplify in July 2022, followed by the energy company paying a further $12.9 million in fines and Coast Guard reimbursements in September 2022. Amplify then paid the largest amount, $50 million, in October to companies and property owners who had been hurt by the spill.

The only thing remaining was the lawsuit between the shipping companies whose ships first broke the lines in January 2021 and Orange County residents who were negatively affected by the spill. But that came to an end in February when a $45 million settlement was agreed to.

Reopening of the pipeline

Now, with  legal issues mostly cleared up and the pipeline newly sealed, Amplify was ready to restart the flow of oil. On Monday, Amplify announced that the pipeline would be back online soon, with the two-week process of filling the pipeline started Easter weekend. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) approved both the fill and restart plan, with oil now expected to flow once again by the end of the month, in time for the busy summer vacation season which brings in an uptick of gasoline usage.

“Safety has driven every aspect of our response, repair and restart operations, and safety will continue to guide our operating philosophy as we bring the Beta asset back online,” said Amplify President and Chief Executive Officer Martyn Willsher in a statement. “The approval from federal regulatory agencies and the receipt of $85 million in net proceeds from the vessels that struck and damaged our pipeline substantially concludes a very challenging last 18 months for the Company, and we are eager to focus our attention on safely operating our Beta assets, our business as a whole and the strategic direction of the Company. Amplify has operated off the coast of California for years in a safe and responsible manner, and we remain committed to ensuring the protection of our employees, the environment and our surrounding communities.

“Following the line fill process, the pipeline will be operated in accordance with the restart procedures that were reviewed and approved by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.”

Many residents who who negatively affected by the spill gave cautious optimism about the restarting of the pipeline, with many noting that, should something like this happen again, they now know exactly what to do and know what the wrong parties will pay.

“The mood here is kind of forgiving,” said Huntington Beach resident Omar Vazquez to the Globe on Tuesday. “There is still some ill-will, but we also know that we need oil, that everything has been repaired and them, like us, really don’t want to go through all this again. Especially if oil covers beaches during a big tourism weekend again.”

“So yeah, I would say cautious optimism. Fifty years from now, with green energy the way it’s going, oil spills like what happened here could just become a thing of the past. But, for now, we are all aware that it is still a possibility.”

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Evan Symon
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