U.S. Attorneys are charging Amplify Energy Corp. with criminal negligence, claiming the company allowed 25,000 gallons of crude oil to spill less than five miles off Huntington Beach, in a scathing federal grand jury indictment announced Wednesday.
The indictment, released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, calls out at least six different instances of negligence by Amplify and its subsidiaries over the spill, resulting from a crack in a 16-inch oil pipeline the company operates.
Federal grand jurors allege Amplify failed to respond to eight different alarms from their leak detection system as early as 4:10 p.m. Friday.
The company did not alert authorities until Saturday morning, by which time over a million people had flocked to Huntington Beach for the annual Pacific Airshow.
Amplify CEO Martin Willsher previously claimed the company was unaware of the leak until 8:09 a.m. Saturday morning at a press conference on Oct. 5.
According to the indictment, the pipeline’s operators shut down and restarted the pipeline five times on Friday evening and continued to pump oil into the early hours of Saturday morning when a manual leak test was done.
The pipeline operators were also “understaffed and fatigued,” and had not been properly trained on the leak detection equipment according to federal prosecutors.
If convicted, the company would be placed under probation for at least the next five years and be charged with fines that “potentially could total millions of dollars,” according to the Department of Justice press release.
In a statement released Wednesday evening, Amplify claimed they thought the eight earlier notifications were false alarms because the pipeline’s leak detection equipment was malfunctioning.
“(The leak detection system) was repeatedly and wrongly signaling a potential leak at the platform where no leak could be detected by the platform personnel and where no leak was actually occurring,” reads a company statement. “Instead, as the factual record shows today, the leak occurred over four miles away, where the pipeline had been displaced.”
“Had the crew known there was an actual oil spill in the water, they would have shut down the pipeline immediately.”
The company’s statement on Wednesday is their first regarding their equipment’s performance during the oil spill, after months of declining to comment on the issue.
County Supervisor Katrina Foley, whose district held most of the impacted cities, said today’s indictment only confirmed what she suspected all along.
“From the very beginning I was saying it happened on Friday night because I had that report from our county’s harbor patrol,” Foley said in a phone call with Voice of OC. “It’s just terrible that they tried to mislead the public and misdirect people in order to avoid taking responsibility for their failure to take prompt action.”
Ever since the spill, the incident has been under investigation by a variety of federal and state offices, including the US Coast Guard, Department of Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency, the office of the Inspector General, and the FBI.
State lawmakers are also probing the spill through a special committee tasked with looking into what went wrong both on Amplify’s end – and on that of state authorities and regulators.
Amplify was not present for the committee’s first hearing in November, marking the second time the company refused to appear before Sacramento for questioning.
The spill has prompted calls by state legislators and local cities to end all offshore drilling along California’s coast.
It’s also prompted some local governments across Southern California to rethink their holdings in fossil fuel companies and banks which invest in them.
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