Confusion Spirals: California Pipeline Might Have Leaked for Hours

A newer video released Thursday has some new suggestions for the causes behind the oil slick was has devastated California.

  • California Pipeline Might Have Leaked for Hours
    The man-made disaster may cost $500,000, marine wildlife, and livelihood. 

On October 2, 2021, a breakage in a southern California oil pipeline devastated the beaches along the coast.

“The spill has significantly affected Huntington Beach, with substantial ecological impacts occurring at the beach and at the Huntington Beach Wetlands,” said a Twitter statement by the municipality of Huntington Beach. 

The pipeline, connected to an offshore oil platform named Elly, which is also connected to another one called Ellen, was thought to have sustained a crack in its metal - the operating company, Amplify Energy, did not immediately comment on the matter at hand at the time of the disaster. 

Investigators have recently postulated that the leakage could be attributed to a ship anchor which may have caught up in the pipeline, ripping it up into what is described as a "fish mouth" tear, 30 meters below the surface. 

An earlier video of the pipeline showed a 33-centimeter fissure where it bled, but no evidence of "damage," which led the investigators to suggest that the fissure could've been from a collision with a large anchor. However, another video released by Coast Guard on Thursday showed a conduit transporting oil with a bend in the pipeline, which lead to new suggestions that it "doesn't necessarily look like anchor damage," according to Frank Adams, president of Interface Consulting International. Adams said that when a pipeline is hit by an anchor, this results in damage, which then may lead to a fracture. With the absence of the damage factor, an anchor could be a far attribution. 

A petroleum engineering professor at the University of Houston, Ramanan Krishnamoorti, said that the video was very revealing and that “It seems to me you’ve got something that was dragged in the sand that might have impacted the pipeline." However, he also expected a larger slash than a simple crack, based on his belief that the pipeline was hit by an anchor. 

The video exposed the incident, which was happening on Friday night, which wasn't detected until Saturday morning at 8:09 am. A private detective for pipeline accidents.

Up to 500,000 liters of oil were spilled into the ocean, killing marine wildlife and disrupting the environment - in parallel, the cost of damages may exceed $500,000.

What are we looking at? 

About 8 kilometers from the shore, at a depth of 30 meters, a 1,219-meter section of the pipeline was forced out from its position some 32 meters. The pipeline was bent like a "strong on a bow," according to the CEO of Amplify Energy, Martyn Willsher. 

  • Confusion Spirals: California Pipeline Might Have Leaked for Hours
    A screenshot from the video exposing the pipeline which was released on October 7, 2021. 

Despite no signs of damage, the pipeline was moved far from its position: “My first reaction when I heard that it is displaced so far was that it’s remarkable that it’s even intact at all,” Jonathan Stewart, a professor in civil and environmental engineering at UCLA said. he explained that the bending stresses on the pipe, if sustained for long enough, could've caused a rupture, leading to the leak.

However, according to Stewart, there isn't much information to form a conclusion about the causes behind the man-made disaster. 

The real questions 

On Friday, a foreign ship sailing in Californian waters on Huntington Beach reported the slick of oil that stretched longer than 3 kilometers just after 6 pm; the European Space Agency pointed at an oil slick at 7 pm. This made its way to the coast guard at 2:06 am. 

Federal pipeline regulators said that the recorded time of the incident was at 2:30 am on Saturday; however, the company didn't shut down the pipeline until 6:01 am that morning. 

Questions are arising about whether the company knew about the leakage or not. 

The type of crack seen in the Coast Guard video is big enough to allow some oil to escape to potentially trigger the low-pressure alarm, Kuprewicz said. But because the pipeline was operating under low pressure, the control room operator may have simply dismissed the alarm because the pressure was not very high to begin, he said.

Richard Kuprewicz asserted that the accident must've been a very difficult one to be determined quickly. 

“An opening of this type, on a 17-mile-long (27-kilometer) underwater pipe is very hard to spot by remote indications. These crack-type releases are lower rate and can go for quite a while," said Kuprewicz.