The suspected oil spill company has committed offenses


HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif .– The company whose pipeline is believed to be one of the largest oil spills in recent California history has been cited 72 times for sufficiently serious safety and environmental violations so that drilling had to be interrupted or stopped to resolve the problem, regulatory records show.

In total, Beta Operating Co. has been cited 125 times since 1980, according to a database from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, the federal agency that regulates the offshore oil and gas industry. The online database only provides the total number of violations, not the details of each incident.

The company was fined a total of $ 85,000 for three incidents. Two date back to 2014, when a worker who was not wearing proper protective gear was electrocuted with 98,000 volts of electricity, and a separate incident when crude oil was released from a dam where a safety device had been improperly bypassed.

Beta, which is a subsidiary of Houston-based Amplify Energy, is under surveillance after an alleged leak in an undersea pipeline sent 126,000 gallons (572,807 liters) of heavy crude into ocean waters, fouling the sand from famous Huntington Beach and other coastal communities. . The spill could keep the beaches closed for weeks or more.

Environmentalists feared the oil could devastate birds and marine life in the area. But Michael Ziccardi, veterinarian and director of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, said only three oiled birds have been found so far.

“At this point, we are cautiously optimistic about the number of animals that could be affected,” he said at a press conference on Monday.

Amplify operates three oil platforms approximately 14.5 kilometers off the coast of California, all installed between 1980 and 1984. The company also operates a 16-inch pipeline that transports oil from a processing platform to a facility ashore storage at Long Beach. The company said the oil appeared to come from a ruptured pipeline about 6.44 kilometers from the platform.

Prior to the spill, Amplify had high hopes for the Beta oilfield and was spending millions of dollars on upgrades and new “side track” projects that would exploit the oil by drilling laterally.

“We have the flexibility to continue for as long as we want,” Amplify CEO Martyn Willsher said on an investor conference call in August. He added that there was a capacity “up to 20,000 barrels per day”.

Investors shared Willsher’s optimism, sending the company’s stock more than seven times since the start of the year to $ 5.75 at the close of trading on Friday. The title plunged more than 40% in morning trading on Monday.

The company filed for bankruptcy in 2017 and emerged a few months later. He was using cash generated by the Beta field and others in Oklahoma and Texas to pay off $ 235 million in debt.

Some residents, business owners and environmentalists questioned whether authorities had acted quickly enough to contain the spill. People who live and work in the area said they noticed an oil sheen and a strong smell of oil on Friday evening.

Dams were deployed to the surface of the ocean on Sunday in an attempt to contain the oil as divers sought to determine where and why the leak occurred. On land, there was a race to find the animals injured by the oil and prevent the spill from harming more sensitive swamps.

But it was not until Saturday afternoon that the Coast Guard said an oil spill had been spotted and a unified command was put in place to respond. And it took until Saturday night for the company to shut down the pipeline.

Rick Torgerson, owner of Blue Star Yacht Charter, said Friday night that “people were emailing and neighbors asking, ‘Do you smell that? “”. he said.

Garry Brown, president of the environmental group Orange County Coastkeeper, denounced an initial lack of coordination between the coast guard and local authorities in the face of the spread of the oil spill.

“By the time he gets to the beach, he’s done a lot of damage. Our frustration is that this could have been avoided if there had been a quick response, ”said Brown, who lives in Huntington Beach.

Some of the oil washed up on the shores of Orange County. Beaches in the city and state of Huntington Beach were closed, and on Sunday evening the town of Laguna Beach just to the south said its beaches were also closed.

Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr said beaches in the community dubbed “Surf City” could remain closed for weeks or even months. The oil created a sliver several miles wide in the ocean and washed up on the shore in sticky black blood cells.

“In a year filled with incredibly difficult issues, this oil spill constitutes one of the most devastating situations our community has faced in decades,” said Carr. “We do everything in our power to protect the health and safety of our residents, visitors and natural habitats. “

Amplify CEO Martyn Willsher said the company’s pipeline and three platforms were shut down on Saturday evening. The 17.5-mile (28.16-kilometer) pipeline that lies 80 to 100 feet (24 to 30 meters) below the surface has been vacuumed so that there is no more oil spill while the location of the leak was being investigated.

Crews led by the skimmers deployed by the Coast Guard set up some 3,700 feet (1,128 meters) of floating barriers known as booms in an attempt to prevent more oil from seeping into areas such as Talbert Marsh, officials said of the 25-acre (10-hectare) wetland.

The oil will likely continue to wash up on the shore for several days and could affect Newport Beach and other nearby communities, officials said.

The spill comes three decades after a massive oil spill hit the same part of the Orange County coast. On February 7, 1990, the tanker American Trader crashed its anchor off Huntington Beach, dumping nearly 417,000 gallons (1.6 million liters) of crude. Fish and approximately 3,400 birds were killed.

In 2015, a ruptured pipeline north of Santa Barbara sent 143,000 gallons (541,313 liters) of crude oil gushing out onto Refugio State Beach.

The area affected by the latest spill is home to threatened and endangered species, including a plump shorebird called a snow plover, the California tern and the humpback whale.

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