KEY POINTS

  • It took another three hours before the Amplify Energy subsidiary alerted the National Response Center about the leak
  • U.S. Coast Guard reported that the pipeline had a 13-inch split
  • An industry expert questioned the delay in responding to the leak alarm

Federal regulators said operators of the Amplify Energy Corp. subsidiary that leaked 144,000 gallons of heavy crude into the Pacific Ocean were alerted of a possible breach in the pipeline but they did not shut it down immediately. The U.S. Coast Guard said the pipeline had been "pulled like a bow string."

In a corrective action order sent by federal pipeline and hazardous materials regulators, the regulators said Amplify’s subsidiary, Beta Offshore, was notified of a “low-pressure alarm” that suggested “a possible failure” at 2.30 a.m. Saturday, but the subsidiary only shut down the pipeline more than three hours later, NBC News reported.

It took another three hours before Beta Offshore reported the leak to the National Response Center, causing a delay in responding to the issue.

The corrective action order added that the pipeline appears to have failed at a depth of nearly 100 feet or about 5 miles offshore, resulting in oiled birds and fishing prohibition from Huntington Beach to the San Diego County line. The leak also resulted in a state of emergency declaration for Orange County. Amplify did not immediately respond to a Tuesday evening request for comment.

Pipeline consultant and private accident investigator Richard Kuprewicz told the Associated Press that “something’s not quite right here” as he questioned why “it took so long” for Beta Offshore to respond to the alarm of a possible problem.

Despite increasing questions about the delayed response, some experts said there are leaks that don’t immediately get detected. “It’s a physics problem,” pipeline integrity and compliance consultant Andrew Kendrick said, adding that some detection systems cannot detect small leaks “because of the large volumes being transported.”

On Tuesday, the U.S. Coast Guard said divers located a bend in the affected pipeline, with investigators suspecting that a cargo ship’s anchor may have caused a rupture on the pipeline, USA Today reported.

Coast Guard Capt. Rebecca Ore said that about 4,000 feet of the 17-mile pipeline appeared to have been moved by 105 feet, with divers also locating a 13-inch split in the pipeline.

Amplify Energy CEO Martyn Willsher also said previously that an anchor striking the pipeline was “one of the distinct possibilities” behind the massive leak. Following the Coast Guard’s findings that the pipeline had been apparently dragged along the ocean floor, Willsher said: “The pipeline has essentially been pulled like a bow string. And so at its widest point, it is 105 feet away from where it was.”

It is expected that Huntington Beach will be sealed off for several weeks or even longer, with some fisheries and recreational fishing providers fearing a hit to the local economy.

Surfers catch a wave in Huntington Beach, California on May 2
Surfers catch a wave in Huntington Beach, California on May 2 AFP / Apu GOMES
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