Hoping to recover a lost anchor chain, a work boat dragged a hook across the seabed near an oil rig off the South coast. California Beach. But it connected something else – a pipeline that carries crude oil from the towering tower to the shore.
Once fitted, the 197 feet (60 meters) boat dragged the pipeline until it snapped into one of the rig’s legs. The gushing oil created a slick that stretched for miles along the coast of Ventura County in the northwest. angels
The May 1991 crash provides a snapshot of the environmental hazards and tradeoffs that come with the network of oil platforms and pipelines along Southern California’s world-famous coastline. That uneasy relationship is being retested this month after a leaky submarine pipeline off Huntington Beach polluted beaches and killed seabirds and fish.
In the latter case, investigators believe a cargo ship’s large anchor may have crashed and dragged into the 16-inch (41-centimeter) pipeline as early as a year ago. The damage is suspected to have caused the pipeline to crack and spill about 25,000 gallons (94,635 liters) of crude oil.
The incident renewed calls to end drilling in coastal waters and came amid a societal reckoning on climate change and continued reliance on fossil fuels. It also raises questions about the durability of legacy equipment, the limits of government surveillance, how willing companies are to invest in repairs, and whether it makes sense to have drilling rigs and pipelines near one of the world’s busiest port complexes.
The most recent spill involved a pipeline south of Los Angeles that served a cluster of three oil platforms several miles offshore. Its first owner, Shell Oil, began operating the “Beta Unit” in 1980 and predicted that operation would take approximately 35 years, “during which the platform and other offshore facilities would be removed and wells closed.”
They are now entering their fourth decade.
The platforms and pipeline are owned by Houston-based Amplify Energy Corp., which came into existence after its previous owner, Memorial Production Partners, went bankrupt in 2017.
In 2011, Beta requested and received approval to replace two pipelines running between its platforms, one for oil that had previously been decommissioned due to corrosion damage, and the other for water deemed “end of useful life” in the documents submitted. to federal regulators.
Miyoko Sakashita Biodiversity Center He said the removal of old pipelines that oppose offshore drilling should be a sign that the failed one is also at risk.
“I was very worried that they would notice wear and tear of the pipes between the platform, but that was overlooked,” he said. “California’s offshore oil infrastructure is old and decrepit and needs immediate decommissioning.”
There are 27 oil and gas platforms off the coast of California. According to a report released last year by the Aquarium, federal officials have jurisdiction over 23 ages ranging from about 30 to 50 years old, with water depths ranging from 95 feet (29 meters) to about 1,200 feet (366 meters). The Pacific is jointly supported by the California State Lands Commission, which oversees pipelines in state waters.
About half of the platforms still produce oil that goes from the wells to the platforms and refineries through a network of pipes as in the last spill.
Environmentalists have long complained about weak federal oversight of pipeline companies. In April, a harsh report from the congressional observer Government Accountability Office found fundamental problems with how authorities traced these lines – a problem that was first recognized in 2007.
The report focused on some 8,600 miles (13,840 kilometers) lines in the Gulf of Mexico. The Home Office’s Security and Environmental Enforcement Bureau said it allows companies to use unreliable methods to detect leaks and does not systematically monitor whether pipelines move or become exposed due to strong currents or changes in the seafloor.
A senior aide to Home Secretary Deb Haaland acknowledged the problems, and officials said the new rules could be finalized next year. Laura Daniel-Davis, the agency’s deputy secretary general for land and mineral management, said in a letter to the GAO last month that there will be significant changes in the requirements for detecting leaks, inspections, repairs to pipelines and other areas.
The fact that there are fewer pipelines in the Pacific compared to the Gulf means federal regulators can monitor the California coastline more closely, he said. John Smith Having spent more than three decades with the agency that manages oil and gas production, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and its predecessor, the Minerals Management Service, Dr.
But he added that the Amplify leak will test whether this oversight is sufficient for something predicted decades ago.
In 1991, the federal Mineral Management Service estimated the probability of a major oil spill in Southern California at 94% over 30 years. This estimate was issued shortly after a tanker spill in Huntington Beach and Newport Beach caused the blackened shoreline and ruptured pipeline that created the slick in Ventura County.
The oil industry – 150,000 jobs in California and the source of hundreds of millions of state tax dollars over the years – has long been an awkward partner with the environmental government, a national leader that will ban the sale of new gasoline in renewable energy. – Motorized passenger cars and trucks in 2035.
A moratorium was imposed on new oil and gas leases in state waters following a devastating 1969 spill in Santa Barbara that helped spur the modern environmental movement. Now, Orange County Republican U.S. Representative Michelle Steel wants to temporarily ban freighters from mooring or idling along the county’s coastline, calling the buildup of ships awaiting unloading an “environmental and public health crisis.”
Oil production in federal waters in the Pacific has dropped 90% since 1995, with no new drilling leases sold since the early 1980s. As the raw reservoirs beneath California’s offshore platforms are depleted, that means thinner industry profits.
“It’s very difficult for them to make large investments in equipment and pipelines,” Smith said.
Authorities identified a narrow crack in the Amplify pipeline as the source of the recent leak. What caused the rupture remains a mystery that will never be solved.
Coast Guard investigators suspect that one of the thousands of cargo ships that use the twin ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles each year is hit by a multi-ton anchor. The pipe bent and dragged up to 32 meters, its concrete sheath cracked, then struck again, possibly by other anchors.
Safety audits in 2015, 2017, and 2019 found anomalies in Amplify’s pipeline, including metal loss and three previously repaired dents. But several experts who reviewed the reports said the metal loss was relatively small, which could be a sign of thinning of a pipe wall that corrodes with age. The dents were not in the same area as the spill.
“It’s one of the cleanest lines I’ve ever seen,” said Chris Fox, an engineer with the State Lands Commission, which oversees pipelines running through state waters.
Audit reports were obtained through a public registration request by the Associated Press.
Smith, now an oil and gas industry consultant, said the culprit in the Amplify case was probably not a grapple hook, because the pipeline was much larger and heavier than the pipeline that failed after it was connected in 1991.
“This is much harder to move. You need a much bigger impact to drag 100 feet,” he said.
Brown reported from Billings, Montana. Associated Press writer Brian Melley contributed from Los Angeles.