Criminal investigation opened on Amplify Energy after an oil spill off the Californian coast

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The Orange County district attorney authorized the investigation.

A criminal investigation has been opened against the energy company that operates the pipeline that has leaked hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil off the southern California coast.

Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer on Thursday authorized the criminal investigation into Amplify Energy, Spitzer’s office confirmed to ABC News. The investigation will be conducted by the Environmental Crimes Unit of the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.

Hundreds of people were helping clean up a 30-mile stretch of beaches and marshes from Huntington Beach to Dana Point, officials from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife told reporters at a press conference on Wednesday.

Air crews were identifying affected locations and alerting cleanup crews, said Captain Rebecca Ore of the Coast Guard’s Long Beach branch. “Everyone here is absolutely committed to cleaning up our beloved California beaches.”

Michael Ziccardi, director of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network in California, said the organization collected 13 live birds and two dead birds affected by the oil. Four live snow plovers, an endangered species, were also found in Huntington Beach.

It is estimated that 5,000 gallons of oil were recovered from the water and beaches, Ziccardi added.

Up to 144.00 gallons of crude oil spilled into the ocean after the pipeline, about 4.5 miles off the California coast, known as Elly, was damaged on Saturday morning.

The pipeline was no longer pumping oil around 8 a.m. on Saturday, and the Coast Guard was notified of the leak at that time, said Martyn Willsher, CEO of Amplify Energy Corporation.

But officials alleged the leak was actually discovered more than eight hours earlier. Orange County supervisor Katrina Foley said over the weekend the pipeline was likely leaking before the damage was discovered on Saturday morning, and officials from a division of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said in one report that they were informed of an “observed burst” off the coast of Huntington Beach on Friday at 10:22 pm, according to documents obtained by ABC News.

The U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and the Hazardous Material Safety Administration demanded that the failing pipeline be repaired in a letter to Amplify Energy Corp on Tuesday. The letter, addressed by the Associate Administrator for Pipeline Safety, says the oil rig’s control room received low pressure alarms on the San Pedro Bay pipeline around 2:30 a.m. PDT on Saturday, indicating a possible failure. But the line was not closed until 6:01 am – 3 and a half hours later.

Robert Bea, co-director of the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management at the University of California, Berkeley questioned Amplify Energy’s claim that the pipeline was closed at 2:30 a.m. on Saturday.

Bea speculated that if the first sightings of the burst had taken place on Friday evening and a large plume of oil was visible on satellite imagery soon after, low pressure alarms would have sounded in theaters. control shortly after the start of the leak, unless the alarms were faulty.

No anomalies were found during the pipeline clean-up last week or during an annual spill exercise in 2020, Willsher said, adding that he expected the total oil loss to be less, being given that the pipeline damage was only a 13 inch crack. .

“We want to do everything possible to have this situation and this release resolved as quickly as possible so that these beautiful neighborhoods can be restored and all residents and businesses can get back to normal as quickly as possible,” Willsher mentioned.

It’s unclear why the company didn’t stop pumping sooner, Bea told ABC News.

A class action lawsuit was filed against the companies operating the oil line on Monday.

ABC News’ Matt Gutman and Jenna Harrison contributed to this report.

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