A Houston-based oil company was indicted after a crude spill polluted Southern California waters and beaches in October, according to The Associated Press via FOX 5.
A federal grand jury charged Amplify Energy Corp. and its companies with a single misdemeanor count of illegally discharging oil on Wednesday (December 15). Huntington Beach, city beaches, and other areas were reportedly shut down for weeks from the major spill.
Investigators claim the pipeline got snagged by a cargo ship's anchor back in January, weakening the pipe until it ruptured on October 1. Over 25,000 gallons of crude oil were dumped into the ocean. Federal prosecutors allege all parties were negligent in several ways, including failing to respond to a leak detection system and alarms over a 13-hour period.
Reports say the alarm went off at 4:10 p.m. on that day, but the leak wasn't discovered until the next morning. Residents in the area called 911 about the strong smell of oil before sunrise, but authorities and the Coast Guard reportedly didn't find it until later that morning.
Amplify blamed one of their companies, saying the pipeline was displaced and the workers thought they were false alarms. Prosecutors, however, say the crew responsible for looking over the pipeline were fatigued and insufficiently trained in the leak detection system. Investigators allege it was also understaffed.
AP also reported about the weak functionality of Amplify's detection system along with questions about the company's failure to respond to the spill.
Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley says this indictment vindicated the residents who detected the spill before the company did.
"It’s terrible that they basically lied to the community during the press briefings and caused people to believe that what they saw with their own eyes or smelled or knew was actually not true," she says. "What we know now is that the company knew this, and the alarms went off like they were supposed to, and nobody did anything."
Amplify Energy Inc. sent iHeartMedia a statement Thursday afternoon (December 16) about the U.S. Department of Justice's announcement:
"Amplify Energy and its employees are committed to safe operations that keep our people, the environment, and the communities in which we operate safe at all times. That is the operating commitment we strive to uphold, and the prompt actions and reasonable care our employees demonstrated in responding to events on October 1 and 2 reflect that commitment.
Over the course of the timeframe in question, Amplify’s offshore platform and onshore pipeline personnel worked together to troubleshoot and rectify what were believed to be false leak detection system alarms. Following each alarm, the crews investigated various components of the platform and the pipeline’s instrumentalities to determine what could be contributing to what were thought to be false alarms. Unbeknownst to the crew during this period, and further complicating their efforts, however, was the fact that the pipeline’s leak detection system was not functioning as designed, but 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. Instead, as the factual record shows today, the leak occurred over four miles away, where the pipeline had been displaced more than 100 feet by a ship’s anchor - a fact not shared with Amplify by anyone with knowledge of that anchor-dragging incident. Had the crew known there was an actual oil spill in the water, they would have shut down the pipeline immediately.
When a line ride the morning of October 2 identified a sheen in the water, the Company immediately began to execute its federally-approved oil spill response plan.
Since the spill, the Company has worked closely with the U.S. Coast Guard and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (CDFW-OSPR) as part of the Unified Command, and also with many other federal, state and local agencies on the remediation efforts. The Company is grateful for the efforts of all parties involved, and the Company will continue to collaborate closely as cleanup and restoration progresses."
If Amplify and its companies are convicted, the corporation could face up to five years of probation and millions of dollars in fines, according to AP.