The FBI has joined the investigation into the oil spill that dumped thousands of gallons of crude off the coast of Orange County to determine whether any criminal violations have taken place, the agency said Thursday.
The FBI joins a plethora of federal and state investigative agencies already investigating the leak in the waters off Huntington Beach nearly two weeks ago. Authorities initially estimated that 144,000 gallons of oil had been spilled into the ocean, but later revised that number to between 24,696 and 131,000 gallons.
Officials have yet to serve a search warrant in connection with the investigation, FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said.
The U.S. Coast Guard Criminal Investigation Unit, California Attorney General’s Office, and Orange County Attorney’s Office are already conducting a criminal investigation.
The FBI is now participating in the criminal investigation, which examines, among other things, whether there has been an accidental oil spill in navigable waters. An oil shard was first spotted on the evening of October 2 by a vessel 4.5 miles off Huntington Beach and then detected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
A federal agency that oversees the pipelines has already launched an investigation and requested documents from Amplify Energy, the parent company of Beta Offshore, which operates the pipeline linked to the offshore platforms.
But so far, no investigative agency has admitted serving any search warrants or subpoenas on the oil company or a shipping company. At least two ships that were near the pipeline on October 2 were approached by Coast Guard investigators to determine if they could have been involved. Both have since been erased.
In addition, the Coast Guard opened an investigation with the help of the National Transportation Safety Board. Agencies believe that an anchor drag from a large ship broke the concrete casing of the pipe in the past year and moved the pipe more than 100 feet. Previous damage eventually resulted in the emergence of a 13-inch crack in the pipeline.
Amplify Energy chief executive Martyn Willsher was evasive about the crucial hours before the company officially reported the discovery of oil in the water on October 3, offering information that conflicts with state records and federal government and providing vague answers to questions at press conferences.
For Amplify, the first sign of a problem appears to have occurred at 2:30 a.m. on October 3, when control room workers received a low pressure alarm on the 15-mile pipeline that carries crude oil to land. , according to a letter from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which oversees the pipelines. The pipeline was operating at around 30% of its maximum pressure, the agency said.
An October 4 letter ordering Amplify not to restart the San Pedro Bay pipeline until it is proven safe, says the alarm indicated “possible failure” and the operating company closed the pipeline 3.5 hours later, at 6:01 am The 2:30 am alert also appears as an incident hour on federal and state reports of the risk management firm’s appeal. company to federal authorities. Willsher said the company first saw oil in the water at 8:09 a.m. on October 3 and reported it within an hour.
Darius Kirkwood, spokesperson for the Federal Pipeline Monitoring Agency, said in a statement that the owner of the pipeline must keep the line closed until a full review of the records is completed and determined if deterioration conditions exist elsewhere on the line.
In addition to the platform operator’s actions, investigators are investigating whether an unprecedented blockage at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach played a role in the spill.
The leak has heightened national attention to the pandemic-induced impasse of cargo ships outside ports, which handle a third of the country’s imports. leading President Biden to negotiate a deal this week to have the facilities operate 24 hours a day.
Investigators are investigating possible issues with the way ships anchor or drift offshore while waiting to dock.
Offshore traffic jams have forced ships to wait well beyond their usual schedules, dropping their huge anchors near oil platforms and underwater oil pipeline infrastructure.
The Coast Guard and the NTSB are focusing on a period early this year when high winds may have pushed large vessels onto the pipeline. They are examining which vessels were nearby on January 24 and 25 and are collecting data on every vessel circulating near the pipeline since last October.
In the coming weeks, investigators expect to board several foreign vessels that may have been anchored near the pipeline over the past year.
A first collision with a ship may have displaced the pipeline, which was last inspected in October 2020, without breaking it. Another collision, or perhaps a geological event, could have “made the fracture worse or caused it all,” said US Coast Guard captain Jason Neubauer.
The investigations could lead to criminal charges and civil penalties and be used in several class actions against Amplify Energy, according to legal experts.
Investigators plan to remove the cracked section of the pipeline and take it to a lab so that NTSB metallurgy experts can determine when it was damaged and when it started to leak.