Amplify Energy’s emergency plan for responding to a major oil leak like the one currently occurring in southern California relied heavily on the San Pedro Bay Pipeline being shut down quickly if it detected a sudden drop in pressure. Investigators discovered Tuesday that this was not the case.
According to preliminary findings from an investigation into the incident, a warning alarm was set off at the company’s control room at 2:30 am Saturday. This signaled a rupture which would release tens of thousand of gallons crude oil into the Pacific Ocean. The company took more than three hours to shut the pipeline down at 6:01 AM.
Investigators found that the Houston-based company took three more hours to notify the U.S. Coast Guard National Response Center for oil leaks. This further slowed down the response to an incident for which Amplify workers had spent years planning.
“How did it take so long?” “That’s a fair question,” Richard Kuprewicz from Redmond Washington, who is a private accident investigator and pipeline consultant. If you are unsure, shut down immediately. … There’s something wrong here.
According to Kuprewicz, and other industry experts, pipeline control room alarms do not always indicate a leak. They can also be triggered by a faulty signal from a sensor or a pump that suddenly goes offline, which could cause a sudden pressure drop. The alarms are also supposed to prompt immediate follow-up actions in order to quickly determine if there is anything wrong.
It is not clear why the process took so long in San Pedro Bay. This could have worsened a spillage that left some birds with oily skin and raised concerns about wider environmental impacts.
Investigations continue into the cause of the Los Angeles-area pipeline rupture. Early evidence suggests that a ship anchor may have caught the line and pulled it across the seafloor. This caused a gash in 12.7 millimeter (1 inch) thick steel pipe.
Martyn Willsher, Amplify’s CEO, stated Monday that the company was first made aware of the spillage after receiving a report from a boat reporting a sheen in water.
Willsher admitted that the equipment of the company was meant to detect spillages, but then stated, “we didn’t have any notice that there had been a leak” before the sheen report.
Federal transportation officials didn’t comment Tuesday on the delay in closing the line, nor did they offer any explanation to Amplify employees.
Questions emailed to company representatives about the delay between the alarm sounding and the shutdown were not answered.
For years, problems with leak detection systems have plagued the industry. In 2010, a huge oil spillage occurred in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. The Enbridge Inc. pipeline emitted at least 843,000gallons (3.2 Million liters) of crude oil over 17 hours. Alarms continued to go off in the company control room.
The case was settled by the company for $176 Million.
This accident prompted calls for tighter leak detection rules.
Another 2010 pipeline accident involved a lack of such valves. This was a natural gas transmission line explosion that killed eight people and injured many others in San Bruno, California. The line burned for nearly 90 minutes before it was manually shut down.
Under former President Barack Obama’s leadership, federal officials began to create new valve and leak detection rules. However, they were never completed.
A new rule, which was proposed by former President Donald Trump last year and is currently awaiting final approval, would require more valves for new or replacement oil pipelines. This does not apply to the thousands of miles in use. After lobbying groups representing the oil industry, including the American Petroleum Institute, estimated that retrofitting lines with valves could cost as high as $1.5 million per device, this change was made.
The pending rule doesn’t set standards for leak detections. This gives companies considerable leeway in how sensitive their equipment is to leaks. Bill Caram, Pipeline Safety Trust, a Bellingham-based group that advocates safer pipelines, stated that the pending rule doesn’t establish standards.
Caram stated that it makes Caram worry about the country’s aging infrastructure. “We fear that this could become a larger and more serious problem.”
John Stoody, from the Association of Oil Pipe Lines, stated that companies and industry groups are working hard on improving leak detection technology. To ensure companies are able to detect small leaks and not respond to false alarms, fine-tuning equipment is a part of this.
Stoody stated, “If there are false alarms, people will have a harder job reacting.”