Operator of leaking California pipeline charged with negligence

Los Angeles (AFP) – The operators of a California pipeline that leaked crude oil on to beaches south of Los Angeles in early October were charged Wednesday with negligence by federal prosecutors.


The charges were leveled against Amplify Energy, a Texas company operating the pipeline off Huntington Beach, and two of its subsidiaries -- Beta Operating Co. and San Pedro Bay Pipeline Co., according to the prosecutor's statement.

The authorities accuse them of not having reacted appropriately to alarms warning of the leak, which sounded eight times over a period of 13 hours.

Despite the alarms, the operators repeatedly restarted the pipeline when it should have remained shut down because of the leak, prosecutors said.

"The pipeline, which was used to transfer crude oil from several offshore facilities to a processing plant in Long Beach, began leaking on the afternoon of October 1, but the defendants allegedly continued to operate the damaged pipeline, on and off, until the next morning," the statement said.

"As a result of the allegedly negligent conduct, what is estimated to be about 25,000 gallons of crude oil were discharged from a point approximately 4.7 miles west of Huntington Beach from a crack in the 16-inch pipeline," it added.

In addition, pipeline workers had not received adequate training to understand the leak detection system and the operating crew was "understaffed and fatigued," it went on.

As corporate defendants, the companies face a maximum sentence of five years of probation and millions of dollars in fines, the statement said.

The oil spill caused pollution along 18 miles (24 kilometers) of coast south of Los Angeles between Huntington Beach and Laguna Beach, which are known for their surfers and dolphins.

Underwater inspections revealed that a large segment of the pipeline had been displaced and showed a tear of about three inches in the pipe.

Investigators suspect the damage could have been caused by the anchor of a ship, as the area is often packed with cargo vessels waiting to enter the busy ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

The October disaster re-ignited the debate over the presence of oil platforms just a few miles from the densely populated southern California shore.

A total of 23 oil and gas platforms operate in federal waters just off the coast.