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Blips on the Radar: OC Oil Spill Continued…

What happened: On Oct. 2, 2021, an oil spill flooded Southern California after a 17-mile-long pipeline connected to an oil platform was broken. 


Officials said the crack in the pipeline was 13 inches long, and it quickly released 25,000 gallons of crude oil into the ocean while devastating marine life and habitats. 


Amplify Energy notified the Coast Guard on the morning of the spill when employees conducted a line inspection and noticed a sheen in the water.


The pipeline had been “suctioned at both ends to keep additional crude out,” said company President and CEO Martyn Willsher, adding that he didn’t expect more oil to be released.


The leak was reported 5 miles off the coast of Huntington Beach and originated from platform Elly.


On Nov. 19, the cargo ship Beijing was targeted as the most likely cause of the spill as the ship allegedly dragged its anchor across the pipeline, creating the crack. 


As a result of the spill, fisheries and beaches were closed, and urgent spill response clean-up teams were activated. 


Amplify Energy has begun to see lawsuits against them as well. Plaintiff Peter Moses Gutierrez Jr., a disc jockey whose company regularly performs at Huntington Beach, which bore the brunt of the spill, accuses Houston-based Amplify Energy Corporation and its Beta Operating Company subsidiary of creating a private nuisance by failing to operate the oil rig connected with the accident safely. His complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on Oct. 4, 2021.


In addition, a class-action lawsuit was filed in federal court against Amplify Energy by Laguna Beach property owners, who argue that the company’s negligence in responding to the oil spill just off of Orange County’s coast has negatively affected their beachfront property.


What’s on Tap: A lawsuit was filed on Feb. 28 by Amplify Energy against two shipping companies accused of dragging anchors over the pipeline. 


Amplify Energy named container ships, the MSC Danit and the COSCO Beijing, in the lawsuit that was filed at the end of the business day in a federal court in Santa Ana as part of the ongoing litigation regarding the spill before U.S. District Judge David O. Carter in which Amplify Energy is a defendant. The lawsuit claims the ships were improperly anchored during a large storm that caused the ships to move, dragging the anchor across the ocean floor and over the pipeline. 


Amplify Energy is suing the owners of the container ships, Mediterranean Shipping Co., and Dordellas Finance Corp., along with the captains and crews and other associated companies. The lawsuit has also been extended to Marine Exchange, which is responsible for directing traffic around San Pedro Bay.


Amplify Energy is alleging that if it had been notified right away about the anchor collisions, it would have “immediately assessed the situation and made any necessary repairs,” according to a statement from the company.


“[The spill] should never have happened, and had these parties not been grossly negligent and had any party notified Amplify, this entire event could have been avoided,” said Amplify Energy in its statement about the lawsuit. 


According to the lawsuit, both cargo ships had been anchored in San Pedro Bay since Jan. 25, 2021, awaiting to unload cargo. However, other vessels in the area anchored in deeper waters, and the MSC Danit and COSCO Beijing did not anchor in deeper waters.


“Instead, the MSC Danit and COSCO Beijing remained anchored about 4.8 miles off the California coast, next to the undersea San Pedro Bay Pipeline… which has been in place since 1980,” the lawsuit alleged.


The 17-mile-long pipeline carries oil from offshore production and platforms to Long Beach. All defendants must know or should have known precisely where the pipeline was located; federal law prohibits ships from using anchors too close to that pipeline.


After the storm hit San Pedro Bay, the wind gusted up to 63 miles per hour, causing waves to reach 17 feet high. As a result of the storm, the lawsuit alleged the ship’s anchors were pushed across the seafloor in an area where anchoring was not allowed. 


“The anchor-dragging bent and bowed the pipeline, displacing some parts of the pipeline by more than 100 feet and breaking off the concrete casing around the pipeline,” the lawsuit stated.


“…Yet despite dragging anchor while repeatedly crossing over the well-charted location of the pipeline, the MSC defendants and Beijing defendants failed to alert Amplify of the incidents. Nor did Marine Exchange — which monitors such movements in real-time and knew or should have known that the ships had crossed over the pipeline multiple times while broadcasting that they were ‘at anchor’ — inform Amplify of the ships’ movements.”


After the oil spill, Coast Guard officials deemed the two ships as the possible cause of the damage to the pipeline. 


“Then, after one of the COSCO Beijing’s crew members allegedly attempted to flee the country, the MSC Danit’s owner asked (Carter) for emergency relief to secure his deposition,” alleged the lawsuit. “The Coast Guard’s investigation into the anchor-dragging incidents remains ongoing.”


The lawsuit accused both shipping companies of negligence. When a vessel strikes a stationary object, courts presume the ship is at fault, the case said.


Amplify Energy is seeking punitive damages, as well as reimbursement for legal fees, the bill to repair and replace the ruptured portions of the pipeline, and the revenue lost while the pipeline has been inoperable.


Amplify is also pushing to require the Marine Exchange to notify owners of undersea property of any potential anchor drags within 24 hours of the incident.


The company also wants the Marine Exchange to block ships from anchoring in areas immediately adjacent to the pipeline when bad weather is likely, writing that “significant vessel traffic and congestion … combined with the ever-present threat of heavy weather, make future anchor-dragging incidents reasonably likely.” 

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