In an enforcement order issued Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s pipeline regulator said the operator of the ruptured crude line off Orange County had indications of a violation hours before shut off the line or report a potential spill.
At around 2:30 a.m. on Saturday morning, operator Beta Offshore’s control room staff received a low pressure alarm on the San Pedro Bay pipeline, indicating a potential breach. According to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), Beta Offshore reported that the line was closed at 0601 – more than three hours after the alarm.
Beta Offshore did not report a possible breach to the US Coast Guard’s National Response Center (NRC) until 9:07 a.m., more than six hours after the first alarm.
This timeline does not appear to be consistent with previous public statements from Beta’s parent company, Amplify Energy; At a press conference on Tuesday, Amplify CEO Martyn Willsher told the OC Register his company became aware of the potential leak around 8 a.m. – more than five hours after the alarm and two hours after that his company closed the pipeline.
In its order to Beta Offshore, the PHMSA failed to process the first spill reports sent to the NRC, which were submitted by a third-party vessel on Friday evening – long before the first alarm sounded.
An ROV and dive inspection of the entire 18-mile length of the San Pedro Bay pipeline was completed earlier this week. A section of the line 4000 feet long has been shifted horizontally about 100 feet, and part of this segment has a breach about 13 inches in diameter. According to the PHMSA, the damaged section is located about five miles offshore in about 100 feet of water, within reach of commercial divers.
The Unified Command of the Response estimates that the damage does not correspond to normal wear and tear: the steel pipeline is 16 inches in diameter, half an inch thick, and is lined with concrete, and is unlikely to fall. moves on its own. Investigators are considering multiple potential causes, but one possibility is an anchor from one of the dozens of ships waiting in San Pedro Bay. The bay anchorage is exceptionally busy due to unprecedented congestion at the twin ports of LA / Long Beach.
As a precaution, the PHMSA ordered Beta Offshore to keep the pipeline shut down until it clears the start-up. It also ordered a full test procedure for the entire length of the pipeline, including metallurgical testing on the failed pipe wall section. Beta should also review and evaluate its emergency response and public notification procedures.