Pipeline operator Beta Offshore waited more than three hours to shut down its pipeline after being warned by alarms that it was likely leaking – and waited over six hours to report the leak to authorities, federal investigators concluded in a corrective action order obtained by Voice of OC.

The massive leak – which has been killing wildlife along much of Orange County’s coast – happened around 2:30 a.m. Saturday and set off control room alarms at that time, according to preliminary investigation findings from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Yet the operator didn’t shut the pipeline down until 6:01 a.m. – ”over three hours later,” investigators wrote in their order, signed late Monday. 

It wasn’t until 9:07 a.m. Pacific time – ”over six hours after the initial alarm and three hours after the company shut down the pipeline” that the operator reported the leak to authorities, “indicating there was a release of crude oil in the vicinity of its pipeline near Platform Elly,” investigators wrote.

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

The preliminary findings don’t say why the company took so long to report the leak.

The findings also indicated that “the root cause of the accident remains unconfirmed at this time.”

Federal investigators indicate that “preliminary reports indicate that the failure may have been caused by an anchor that hooked the pipeline, causing a partial tear.”

[Click here to read the preliminary findings.]

The Monday letter was sent to Martyn Willsher, president and CEO of Amplify Energy, which owns the oil rig.

Amplify representatives didn’t immediately return a request for comment about the new federal findings.

In a Tuesday news conference, Willsher didn’t respond to questions about the pipeline pressure sensors. 

“There is a leak detection system and we will turn over all that information to authorities,” Willsher told reporters.

He said the company was “first aware of the spill” at 8:09 a.m. Saturday.
The company is required to immediately alert government agencies about leaks, according to an environmental advocate who has been tracking oil pipelines and spills for decades.
“They are under legal mandate to report something like this immediately,” said Richard Charter, a senior fellow with the nonprofit Ocean Foundation.

“Why did it take so long to get reported?” he added.

Voice of OC asked Gov. Gavin Newsom about the new federal findings at a Tuesday afternoon press conference about the spill, and whether or not the notification system should be overhauled.
The governor sidestepped the question.

“We will drive that investigation but it must proceed objectively,” Newsom said in response.

Before the pipe leaked, it was reportedly operating at about 300-400 pounds per square inch gauge pressure, out of a maximum operating pressure of 1,152, the report states.

Since news first broke of an oil spill off the coast of Huntington Beach, there have been a series of gaps in the timeline and questions about who knew what when.

Coast Guard officials have said the first report they received from the company of the leak came in on Saturday morning around 9 a.m., at which point they started their response. 

On Tuesday afternoon, U.S. Coast Guard officials said roughly 4,000 feet of pipe was “displaced,” including 105 feet being dragged. Investigators said they believed the dragged portion of the pipe leaked oil, but didn’t say how it got moved. 

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

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