Federal investigators say they’re “convinced” a ship anchor struck the concrete casing of an oil pipeline that leaked and spilled thousands of gallons of oil off Orange County’s coast.

It seems investigators will now be focusing on what cargo ships since last October — when the pipeline was last inspected — have traversed over the area.  

Federal officials said they’re assuming the pipeline was in place from that point on.

Two vessels have already been boarded as part of the investigation and others may also be inspected as part of the probe, investigators said. 

OC Oil Spill

Latest Figures
  • Authorities now estimate a spill size range between 25,000 gallons to a maximum of 131,000 gallons
  • 5,544 gallons of oily water retrieved
  • Approximately 172,500 pounds of oily debris has been recovered from shorelines
  • 14,060 feet of boom laid to try to curb oil spread
  • More than 900 people on the ground in cleanup effort
  • General questions: 714-374-1702
  • Do not approach affected wildlife, call in a report: 877-823-6926
  • Assist with animals: 714-374-5587
  • Help with cleanups: 714-374-1702
  • File a claim: 866-985-8366

Investigators, finally making themselves available for public questioning during a Friday news conference, also revealed this: 

Findings of marine life growth on the damaged portion of the pipe in question have prompted investigators to “refocus or reframe the scope of our investigation to at least several months to a year ago,” said Coast Guard Cpt. Jason Neubauer at the news conference.

Namely, Neubauer said the Coast Guard is currently reviewing data from an extreme weather event in January, to see if the conditions led to a ship dropping an anchor in the pipeline area, which is supposed to be a no-park zone for ships. 

“The initial event was the anchor strike,” Neubauer said. “From our standpoint once the initial contact was made, it’s possible there was a small fracture or no fracture. It would be impossible to tell at this time.” 

However, Neubauer said, “I’m highly confident — convinced this (the anchor strike) was the initial event.”

He also said such a strike is rare, noting investigators had only found one instance of an anchor strike in the last 20 years causing an oil leak. 

Friday marks the first time officials have publicly said what might have caused the oil spill, yet there were no definitive answers yet. 

The Friday news conference comes after unified command abruptly ended their news conferences on the clean up work. 

The command is made up of Coast Guard, state Dept. of Fish and Wildlife and the company responsible for the spill — Amplified Energy. 

Coastal commissioners called for the pipeline to be buried 10 feet below the seafloor, according to a copy of the 1979 staff report.  

Yet video released by the Coast Guard makes it clear that’s not the case.

When asked about this on Friday, officials said the seafloor moves and that investigators would be looking into the issue. 

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at scustodio@voiceofoc.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio

Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member at Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at bpho@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @photherecord.

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