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Repair to ruptured California oil pipeline to start Friday, leaked documents reveal

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LOS ANGELES – The oil company charged with negligence this week for failing to respond adequately to an October oil spill off the coast of Southern California. It is scheduled to begin permanent repair work, according to leaked documents reviewed by NBC News, but critics say approval of the work appears rushed.

As early as Friday morning, divers will descend about 160 feet below the surface to begin placing what documents describe as a “patch of steel” over a cracked area of ​​pipe that was temporarily repaired in the wake of the spill of the October 1st.

The patch is designed to allow the tubing to be thoroughly cleaned and flushed before two large sections of tubing, totaling nearly 300 feet, are removed from the seabed and finally replaced at a later date.

The plan was distributed to state and federal regulators by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers no more than 48 hours before work began and required agencies to notify the Corps within one day if they had comments on the job.

The listed contact person for the Office of Environmental Safety and Compliance, a federal regulatory agency that oversees offshore oil work, was out of the office during that time, according to an automated response when contacted by NBC News.

The later phases of the plan require the incorporation of new sections of pipe and, finally, the installation of concrete mats on top to protect it. A spokesperson for the pipeline’s owner, Amplify Energy, said that so far only the first part of the work has been approved by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

One reviewer points to the emergency repair process as an example of a welcoming relationship between industry and regulators.

Miyoko Sakashita, director of oceans and senior adviser at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the repair plan should have gone through a permitting process that allowed for greater agency and public oversight.

She compared the permit notice to a “Christmas present” for Amplify Energy.

“This seems like a case where the Army Corps essentially sees itself as a customer service to the oil company to get the pipeline and rig back up and running, rather than providing strict oversight to guard against contamination. from the water, ”Sakashita said.

The pipeline that spilled tens of thousands of gallons of oil off the coast of Orange County, California, on October 4, 2021.US Coast Guard via AP file

A representative from one of the other agencies listed in the document, the California Coastal Commission, told NBC News by email that “commission staff responded to the notice and expressed concern to the Corps about the inclusion of the repair projects temporary and permanent proposed under a single emergency authorization. “

The US Army Corps of Engineers did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday night.

In its request for emergency work, Amplify indicated that the repair would “address an imminent threat to life or property” by securing the pipeline against further oil contamination.

In public remarks in the days after the spill, the company’s chief executive, Martyn Willshire, said the pipeline had been “sucked in” at both ends to “keep all the crude out of the pipeline.”

Ultimately, a 13-inch-long crack was identified as the source of the leak, and how it got there is still being investigated. Authorities believe a ship’s anchor may have snagged and dragged the pipe out of position as early as a year before the spill.

Oil shine in water has been reported twice in recent weeks, most recently on Tuesday. Authorities have not named a definitive source.

The gas pipeline that leaked is part of a complex that began development in the 1970s, and according to documents filed at the time, some parts of the system are now a decade past their planned abandonment date.

This week, an indictment charged Amplify Energy and its subsidiaries with a misdemeanor charge of negligent oil discharge that could result in millions of dollars in criminal penalties. A grand jury said in the indictment that the companies did not respond adequately to the leak detection alarms and that the crew had not received adequate training on the system.

In response, the company said in a statement that the system was not working as designed, indicating a leak at a location that could not be detected by personnel and that “if the crew had known there was an actual oil spill in the water, they would have closed the pipe immediately. “

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