Equilibrium & Sustainability

Coast Guard: California oil leak likely caused by damage that happened months ago

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The underwater pipeline that caused a major oil spill off the coast of Southern California was likely damaged by a ship’s anchor months before it leaked, the Coast Guard said.

Coast Guard Capt. Jason Neubauer, chief of the office of investigation and analysis, said during a news conference on Friday that his office received video evidence indicating the pipeline likely had been damaged “several months to a year ago.”

“This event could be multiple incidents and strikes of the pipeline after that initial event that we’re pretty confident occurred several months to a year ago,” Neubauer said.

Video released Thursday shows that the damaged portion of the pipeline has a 13-inch crack and marine growth, Neubauer said.

The pipeline was intact in October 2020, Neubauer said, but has since been dragged 105 feet. The pipeline had previously been encased in concrete, which was intact a year ago. 

“There was probably an initiating incident of some kind of anchor drag over that section, but since that time, there’s been significant growth,” Neubauer said. “That has refocused the … time frame of our investigation to at least several months to a year ago.”

Neubauer said that an investigation is underway regarding vessel movement over the pipeline over the past year. He also said authorities are examining a “heavy weather event” that occurred Jan. 24 and Jan. 25 and could have made it harder for vessels to anchor.

Beta Offshore, which operates the pipeline, said last Saturday that it first observed and notified the Coast Guard of an “oil sheen” four miles off the coast of Southern California. 

Officials originally estimated that the amount of oil spill could have been up to 144,000 gallons. However, authorities said Thursday that it may have been under 30,000 gallons, CBS Los Angeles reported.

The Associated Press reported Thursday that authorities were looking into a massive cargo ship that was anchored near the pipeline before it ruptured. 

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) declared a state of emergency in Orange County to help response efforts.

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