A Houston-based oil company and two subsidiaries were indicted Wednesday for a crude spill that fouled southern California waters and beaches in October, an event prosecutors say was caused in part by failing to properly act when alarms repeatedly alerted workers to a pipeline rupture. Amplify Energy Corp. and its companies that operate several oil rigs and a pipeline off Long Beach were charged by a federal grand jury with a single misdemeanor count of illegally discharging oil, the AP reports. Investigators believe the pipeline was weakened when a cargo ship's anchor snagged it in high winds in January, months before it ultimately ruptured Oct. 1, spilling up to about 25,000 gallons of crude oil in the ocean.
Federal prosecutors said the companies were negligent in six ways, including failing to respond to eight leak detection system alarms over a 13-hour period that should have alerted them to the spill and would have minimized the damage. Instead, the pipeline was shut down after each alarm and then restarted, spewing more oil into the ocean. Amplify blamed the unnamed shipping company for displacing the pipeline and said workers on and offshore responded to what they believed were false alarms because the system wasn't functioning properly. It was signaling a potential leak at the platform where no leak was occurring, the company said. The leak, in fact, was from a section of undersea pipe 4 miles away, Amplify said.
"Had the crew known there was an actual oil spill in the water, they would have shut down the pipeline immediately," the company said. The first pipeline rupture alarm sounded at 4:10pm on Oct. 1, but the leak was not discovered until well after sunrise the next morning and reported about 9am. Citizens on shore called 911 to report the strong smell of crude that first afternoon, and an anchored cargo vessel reported seeing a large sheen on the water before sunset. Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley said the indictment validates residents who had detected the spill a day earlier and reported it. "It’s terrible that they basically lied to the community during the press briefings and caused people to believe that what they saw with their own eyes or smelled or knew was actually not true," she said. (Read more oil spill stories.)