A Houston-based oil company has been charged due to a massive oil spill that happened off the coast of southern California in October.
Largest Oil Spill in Recent California History
We posted about the oil spill on October 4th. Reports of the spill started coming in when locals noticed a sheen of oil on top of the water and a heavy petroleum smell coming from the ocean during a particularly busy weekend. Large crowds consisting of 1.5 million Californians flocked to Huntington Beach for an already-planned military air show.
After further investigation, reports showed that a 17-mile pipeline had leaked and spilled an estimated 144,000 gallons of crude oil into the water. The pipeline connects to an oil production platform named Elly, which in turn is connected by a walkway to a drilling platform named Ellen. All of these are owned by a Houston-based company named Amplify Energy Corp.
Unfortunately, California beaches were forced to close while fish and wildlife officials worked tirelessly to rescue animals and assess the damage. Huntington Beach was closed for about a week and fishing in the affected areas has resumed only recently. This devastating incident is one of the largest spills in recent California history.
A Texas Oil Company Has Been Charged
Amplify Energy and its companies that operate several oil rigs have been charged and prosecutors say the spill was caused by the company’s failure to properly act after workers were repeatedly alerted of a pipeline rupture. The charges came from a federal grand jury and include a single misdemeanor count of illegally discharging oil. Apparently, the pipeline was weakened when a cargo ship’s anchor snagged it during high winds in January. This was months before the pipeline finally ruptured on October 1st.
The U.S. prosecutors are saying the companies have been negligent in six ways. One of those ways was failing to respond to eight leak detection system alarms over a 13 hour period. Had the company responded to the alarms, the damage from the spill would have been minimized. Instead of responding to the alarms, however, the company simply shut down the pipeline after each alarm and then restarted it, causing more oil to go into the ocean.
Of course, the company is playing the blame game, saying that it was the unnamed shipping company’s fault for displacing the pipeline. Company officials are also saying that offshore workers responded to what they believed were false alarms because the system wasn’t functioning properly. The company says the system was alerting of potential leaks in the platform where no leak was occurring.
If the companies are convicted, the charge carries up to five years of probation for the corporation and the fines could total millions of dollars.
It’s still unclear how much of a lasting impact the spill will have on plants and animals but the oil has seeped into delicate wetlands that are critical habitats for birds and endangered species. Oil deposits don’t always float and can find their way into underwater sediment or even collect against sandbanks. Because of the complex environment of marshes and wetlands, these areas may be permanently damaged. Experts say that if the oil gets down below the level of sediments, it’s probably going to be there forever.
At Karmagawa and SaveTheReef we’re sad that this incident happened because not only is our planet suffering, but innocent animals have paid the price for human mistakes. Even if the company gets charged, the punishment seems like a slap on the wrist.
The company is being held responsible partly because concerned residents detected the spill and took the time to report it. The company was reckless in hitting the “snooze” button, instead of investigating the alarms sufficiently. Because of that, the price that is being paid is much greater than it had to be.
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What do you think about Amplify Energy being charged for this oil spill? Do you think that the charges are justified? Leave a comment below.
(Cover Image: Tigergallery/Shutterstock)