Energy & Environment

Oil company charged for spill off California coast


A federal grand jury on Wednesday brought a charge against Amplify Energy Corp., the Texas-based oil company that owns and operates the pipeline that leaked 25,000 gallons of crude oil into the shores of Orange County.

The indictments filed on Wednesday afternoon charged Amplify and two of its subsidiaries — Beta Operating Co. and San Pedro Bay Pipeline Co. — with one misdemeanor count of negligent discharge of oil.

The companies face a maximum of five years of probation and potentially millions in fines.

Investigators and Amplify have both said they believe the pipeline was displaced by a ship’s anchor, causing the damage that ultimately resulted in the oil spill. However, this displacement could have happened several months before the spill occurred in October.

Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutors pointed to six ways that its believes these companies were negligent: failing to respond to eight different alarms over a 13-hour period; shutting down and restarting the pipeline five times; pumping oil for three hours after the sixth and seventh alarms went off; operating for an additional hour after the eighth alarm, after a boat they contacted failed to see oil being discharged at night; and operating the pipeline with an understaffed and fatigued crew.

In a statement provided to The Hill, Amplify said that during the timeline that the DOJ has pointed to, it worked to “troubleshoot and rectify” what it believed at the time to be “false leak detection system alarms.”

“Unbeknownst to the crew during this period, and further complicating their efforts, however, was the fact that the pipeline’s leak detection system was not functioning as designed, but was repeatedly and wrongly signaling a potential leak at the platform where no leak could be detected by the platform personnel and where no leak was actually occurring,” it added. 

According to the company, the leak was actually four miles away. The company said it had not been notified of the possible ship-dragging of the pipeline.

“Had the crew known there was an actual oil spill in the water, they would have shut down the pipeline immediately,” Amplify said.

As The Associated Press reported, Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley said the indictment validates residents who detected the oil spill 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,” Foley said of Amplify’s public conduct following the spill.

“What we know now is that the company knew this, and the alarms went off like they were supposed to, and nobody did anything,” she said.

–Updated at 10:40 p.m.

Tags Amplify Energy California oil spill

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