HUNTINGTON BEACH (CBSLA) – Authorities Thursday indicated that the volume of the Orange County oil spill caused by a ruptured pipeline may be significantly less than originally estimated.
Earlier in the week, officials had said that the amount of oil spill may be as high as 144,000 gallons. However, on Thursday, officials said it may be under 30,000 gallons.
At a news conference Thursday afternoon, U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Rebecca Ore estimated that roughly 588 barrels of oil had spilled, which would equate to about 24,700 gallons. That’s being considered a minimum amount leaked, but officials are not sure how much more could have spilled into the ocean.
“There’s speculation of about 30,000 gallons, but that’s not been confirmed,” Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said Thursday. “But that would make more sense,” adding that the amount of wildlife so far affected by the spill does not reflect a larger oil spill.
Ore said about 800 workers were combing the beaches and water for oil. About 5,544 total gallons of crude oil has been recovered and 12,860 feet of containment boom have been deployed.
Bartlett also added that U.S. Coast Guard officials were considering what effect a 4.4-magnitude earthquake centered in Torrance might have had on the pipeline several days before the leak.
Michael Ziccardi of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network said 19 live birds and five dead birds have so far been recovered, including five federally threatened Snowy Clovers, which were expected to survive. The team had to use special traps to corral the birds, he said.
“They have a very good chance of survival,” Ziccardi said.
Orange County on Thursday reopened the beaches under its jurisdiction in Dana Point, which include Salt Creek Beach, Strands Beach and Baby Beach within Dana Point Harbor. Capistrano Beach and Poche Beach remain closed because of construction. Dana Point Harbor also remains closed to boat traffic.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife ordered the closure of Southern California fisheries in response to the spill, prohibiting the taking of fish and shellfish from Huntington Beach to Dana Point.
The pipeline rupture and leak was reported Saturday morning. The spill occurred in federal waters at the Elly oil-rig platform, about 4 1/2 miles off-shore. The rig and pipeline are owned by Houston-based Amplify Energy.
The nearly 18-mile pipeline runs from Amplify Energy’s offshore drilling platforms to a pump station in Long Beach.
Federal authorities confirmed Tuesday that a section of Amplify Energy’s oil pipeline was damaged and moved more than 100 feet along the ocean floor, an indication that a ship’s anchor may have caused the spill.
The first report of oil in the water near the pipeline were made Friday evening. A document obtained by CBS2 from the U.S. Department of Transportation indicates a low pressure alarm went off on the Elly at 2:30 a.m. Saturday. However, workers in the control room of Beta Offshore, a subsidiary of Amplify, did not shut down the pipeline until 6:01 a.m. Saturday, about 3 ½ hours later.
Amplify CEO Martyn Willsher insisted the company was unaware of any release of oil into the ocean until about 8 a.m. Saturday, adding that the firm responded and reported the incident immediately. He questioned whether there were any signs of alarm.
“I’m not sure if there was a significant loss of pressure,” Willsher said, adding that when his company’s crews saw oil in the water at 8:09 a.m., an emergency response was initiated.
“We did not take any additional time,” he said. “People were notified very, very quickly.”
Willsher said his company was also unaware of any reports of a sighting of oil in the water as early as 6 p.m. Friday.
“If we were aware of something Friday night, I promise you we would have immediately stopped all operations and moved forward,” he said.
Divers contracted to investigate the source of the leak confirmed that a large section of the pipeline was moved out of place by as much as 105 feet, and a 13-inch “split” in the line was detected in the displaced section.
Willsher said the pipeline is a 16-inch steel pipe covered in concrete, indicating it would take a great deal of force to move and rupture it. He said the “pipeline has been pulled like a bow string,” and “is in almost a semi-circle.”
A federal report released Tuesday states that the damaged pipe is about 98 feet below the ocean surface. The pipeline was installed in 1980.
The Elly oil-rig platform is built to process crude oil from two other platforms, which draw from a large reservoir called Beta Field. Elly is one of three platforms operated by Beta Operating Co., a subsidiary of Amplify, which also operates Ellen and Eureka nearby. Elly processes oil production from Ellen and Eureka and is fed by some 70 oil wells. The processing platform separates oil from water.
Elly is one of 23 oil and gas platforms installed in federal waters off the Southern California coast, according to the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Besides Elly, a processing facility, there are 20 others that produce oil and gas, and two are being decommissioned.
Meanwhile, residents were asked refrain from trying to rescue any oiled animals, but to instead report injured wildlife by calling 877-823-6926, or 877-UCD- OWCN. Interested volunteers must take a four-hour course to train for clean-up efforts and wear special personal protective equipment. Anyone interested can get more details at calspillwatch.wildlife.ca.gov/volunteer or by calling 800- 228-4544.
(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)