Oil Pipeline Operator to Pay Almost $13 Million Over Huntington Beach Spill

Members of a contracted cleanup team pick up tar on Crystal Cove Beach in Newport Beach, California, Oct. 14, 2021. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Janessa Warschkow.

Amplify Energy Corp., operator of the underwater pipeline that broke and released thousands of gallons of oil into Huntington Beach, Calif. waters in 2021, has agreed to pay close to $13 million as part of a plea agreement with the U.S. government, the company announced Aug. 26.

To settle all federal criminal issues associated with the spill, the Houston-based oil and natural gas company agreed to pay a $7.1 million fine over three years and pay back $5.8 million to government agencies for responding to the spill.

The company also agreed to plead guilty to one count of misdemeanor negligent discharge of oil violating the Clean Water Act, serve a four-year probation and enact measures such as putting in a new leak detection system and bolstering Remote Operated Vehicle inspections of the pipeline.

“We believe this resolution, which is subject to court review and approval, reflects the commitments we made immediately following the incident to impacted parties and is in the best interest of Amplify and its stakeholders,” Amplify President and CEO Martyn Willsher said in the announcement. “We are committed to safely operating in a way that ensures the protection of the environment and the surrounding communities.”

The agreement comes nearly a year after the oil spill forced Orange County beaches in Southern California to close for water activities and fishing.

A federal grand jury in mid-December indicted Amplify and two of its subsidiary companies for their parts in the large leak, which disrupted the Southern California fishing industry for weeks.

The three companies, Amplify Energy Corp., Beta Offshore and San Pedro Bay Pipeline Co., were accused of illegally discharging oil during a pipeline break last October by acting negligently in at least six ways, including failing to properly respond to eight separate leak alarms over a span of more than 13 hours. They also were suspected of improperly restarting the pipeline after it had been shut down following the alarms.

The pipeline, which had been used to transfer crude oil from several offshore facilities to a processing plant in Long Beach, began leaking the afternoon of Oct. 1, but the defendants allegedly continued to operate it, off and on, until the following morning.

As a result of the allegedly negligent conduct, an estimated 25,000 gallons of crude oil were discharged from from a crack in the 16-inch pipeline at a point about 4.7 miles offshore of Huntington Beach.

The spill forced a fisheries closure from Huntington Beach to Dana Point in Orange County on Oct. 3. The closure, implemented by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, prohibited the take of all fish and shellfish in that area.

The state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment had determined that a threat to public health was likely from consuming fish in the affected area. In the following days, the original closure area was expanded to include 650 square miles of marine waters and about 45 miles of shoreline, including all bays and harbors from Seal Beach to San Onofre State Beach.

The U.S. Coast Guard reported that the spill covered about 13 square miles.