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Blips on the Radar: Southern California oil spill

What Happened: On Oct. 2, 2021, there was a report of an oil slick off the coast of Newport Beach. The oil slick was reported to be 13-square miles and was spotted just three miles off the coast of Newport Beach. Preliminary results from an investigation found a 13-inch crack in a pipeline connected to an oil platform owned by Amplify Energy Corporation. As a result, the CDFW closed fisheries from Huntington Beach down the coast to Dana Point and extended the closure on Oct. 5 and 7 to include 650 square miles of marine waters and 45 miles of shoreline to include all bays and harbors from Seal Beach to San Onofre State Beach. On Oct. 8, Dana Point Harbor reopened with soft openings for beachgoers, and on Oct. 11, the city of Newport reopened its beaches to the public. The CDFW continued to enforce closures on fisheries up and down the Southern California coast until they lifted the closure on Nov. 30. As of Oct. 10, at 7:30 a.m. USCG, CDFW, Orange County, and San Diego County reported that more than 1,600 people were involved in conducting response operations; 5,544 total gallons of crude oil have been recovered by vessel; 13.6 barrels of tar balls were recovered; approximately 250,000 pounds of oily debris had been recovered from shorelines. Shorelines are undergoing continued clean-up efforts; two overflights are scheduled for Oct. 17; 11,400 feet of containment boom have been deployed. On Oct. 11, 2021, Lieff Cabraser, an attorney law firm with a background in environmental cases, and their co-counsel filed a federal class-action lawsuit in the Central District of California on behalf of anglers, local property owners, and other members of the community affected by the spill against Amplify Energy Corporation, a Delaware corporation Beta Operating Company LLC, and San Pedro Bay Pipeline Company. On Nov. 19, the cargo ship Beijing was identified as the most likely cause of the Huntington spill; allegedly, the ship dragged its anchor across the pipeline creating the crack.


What’s on Tap: On Dec. 15, 2021, a federal grand jury accused three companies of illegally discharging oil during the pipeline break by acting negligently in at least six ways, according to the United States Department of Justice website.

“Failing to properly respond to eight alarms from an automated leak detection system that were activated between 4:10 p.m. on October 1 until the final alarm at 5:28 a.m. the following day,” said the press release from the Department of Justice. “Shutting down and then restarting the pipeline five times after the first five alarms were triggered on October 1, resulting in oil flowing through the damaged pipeline for a cumulative period of more than three hours; Despite the sixth and seventh alarms, pumping oil for three additional hours late on October 1 into the early morning hours of October 2 while a manual leak test was performed; Despite the eighth alarm, operating the pipeline for nearly one hour in the predawn hours of October 2 after a boat they contacted failed to see discharged oil in the middle of the night; Operating the pipeline with crewmembers who had not been sufficiently trained on the automated leak detection system; and Operating the pipeline with an understaffed and fatigued crew.”

The charge carries a statutory maximum of five years of probation, as well as fines that could add up to millions of dollars.

The case is under investigation, and Assistant United States Attorneys Matthew O’Brien and Brian Faerstein of the Environmental and Community Safety Crimes Section are prosecuting this case.

On the litigation side, which was filed in Oct. 2021, on Dec. 21, 2021, U.S. District Judge David O. Carter of the Central District of California appointed Lieff Cabraser partner, Lexi J. Hazam as Interim Co-Lead Counsel in the Orange County Oil Spill Litigation. Judge Carter also appointed three Special Masters to assist the Court in the litigation.

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