3 Companies Indicted for Oil Leak That Impacted SoCal Commercial Fishing

Orange County shoreline cleanup
Members of the Orange County shoreline cleanup and assessment team conduct cleanup operations near Corona Del Mar State Beach Park, California, on Oct. 6, 2021. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Janessa Warschkow.

A federal grand jury has indicted three companies involved in a large oil leak that disrupted the Southern California fishing industry for weeks.

The Justice Department has identified the companies as Amplify Energy Corp., Beta Operating Co. LLC — a wholly owned subsidiary of Amplify doing business as Beta Offshore — and San Pedro Bay Pipeline Co., another wholly owned subsidiary of Amplify.

All were accused in the December indictment of illegally discharging oil during a pipeline break in early October by acting negligently in at least six ways, including failing to properly respond to eight separate leak alarms over the span of more than 13 hours and improperly restarting the pipeline that had been shut down following the leak alarms.

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

As a result of the allegedly negligent conduct, an estimated 25,000 gallons of crude oil were discharged from a point about 4.7 miles offshore of Huntington Beach from a crack in the 16-inch pipeline.

The spill forced a fisheries closure from Huntington Beach to Dana Point in Orange County on Oct. 3. The closure, implemented by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, prohibited the take of all fish and shellfish in that area.

The state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment had determined that a threat to public health was likely from consuming fish in the affected area. In the following days, the original closure area was expanded to include 650 square miles of marine waters and about 45 miles of shoreline, including all bays and harbors from Seal Beach to San Onofre State Beach.

The Coast Guard reported that the spill covered about 13 square miles.

On Nov. 30, the closure order was lifted after the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment declared that there’s no further risk to public health from seafood consumption in the affected area and recommended that fishing and consumption of seafood from the area resume.

OEHHA sampled seafood in the area from Oct. 14 to Nov. 3 in order to ensure it was safe for human consumption.

The indictment alleges that the defendants acted negatively in several ways.

These included failure to eight alarms from an automated leak detection system that were activated between 4:10 p.m. on Oct. 1 until the final alarm at 5:28 a.m. the following day.

The indictment also cited them for shutting down and then restarting the pipeline five times after the first five alarms were triggered on Oct. 1, resulting in oil flowing through the damaged pipeline for a cumulative period of more than three hours, and operating the pipeline with crewmembers who had not been sufficiently trained on the automated leak detection system.

The charge of negligently discharging oil carries a statutory maximum penalty of five years of probation, as well as fines that potentially could total millions of dollars, according to the DOJ.