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By Breeana Greenberg

Following the October oil spill and subsequent indictment of the companies that operated the offshore oil rig that caused it, Assemblymember Laurie Davies has announced that she will soon introduce legislation meant to hold individuals accountable for spills.

Davies, who represents California’s 73rd Assembly District, said her bill would “close loopholes exploited by merchant and oil company ocean vessels when it comes to notifications of pipeline infrastructure in state waters.”

If passed, Davies’ measure, which she plans to introduce at the start of the 2022 legislative session, would require vessels to notify state and federal agencies such as the California Department of Conservation, Coast Guard and Office of Oil Spill Prevention and Response, among others, when they strike, or think they have struck, a pipeline in state waters.

The legislation proposes that vessel operators who fail to notify those agencies would be subject to a civil penalty of up to $50,000. If a struck pipeline leaks oil, individuals will be subject to an additional $1,000 fine for every 1,000 gallons of oil spilled.

In early October, approximately 25,000 gallons of oil leaked from a rig off the coast of Huntington Beach. A stretch of coastline from Huntington Beach to Dana Point was temporarily closed throughout the cleanup efforts. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife had also imposed a fishing ban, which was only recently lifted.

Three companies, Amplify Energy and two of its subsidiaries, now face multiple charges for negligent conduct related to the spill.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, a federal grand jury indictment accused the companies of “failing to properly respond to eight separate leak alarms over the span of more than 13 hours.”

The indictment points to five other incidents in which the companies that own the 17-mile-long San Pedro Bay Pipeline allegedly acted negligently.

In one instance, the indictment alleges, leak alarms were activated between 4:10 p.m. on Oct. 1 and 5:28 a.m. on Oct 2, but without proper response. Instead, the justice department said, workers subsequently shut down and restarted the pipeline five times following the first five alarms.

In Amplify’s prepared statement regarding the indictment, the company said personnel on its offshore platform and onshore pipeline had “worked together to troubleshoot and rectify what were believed to be false leak detection system alarms.”

“Following each alarm, the crews investigated various components of the platform and the pipeline’s instrumentalities to determine what could be contributing to what were thought to be false alarms,” Amplify continued.

According to the company’s statement, the pipeline’s leak detection system was signaling a potential leak where no leak could be detected. The leak occurred more than four miles away, “where the pipeline had been displaced more than 100 feet by a ship’s anchor—a fact not shared with Amplify by anyone with knowledge of that anchor-dragging incident.”

“Had the crew known there was an actual oil spill in the water, they would have shut down the pipeline immediately,” Amplify said in the statement.

In her announcement on the proposed legislation, Davies said the oil spill in October could have been avoided had the operators of the vessel notified state or federal agencies “about the possibility of striking and damaging the pipeline.”

“What happened in Orange County off our shores recently must never happen again,” Davies said in the press release.

Davies said her legislation to require notifications from vessel operators who believe they’ve struck a pipeline could prevent future pipeline leaks from going unnoticed.

“While investigations remain ongoing, what we do know is that a vessel in state waters dragged its anchor into a pipeline, damaged it, and simply never told any state or federal authorities,” Davies said.

“This is unacceptable, but completely permissible under our current system,” she continued. “That is the definition of flawed protocols. We must close this loophole and ensure that companies that do business in our state and use our waters respect our environment, plus rule of law.”

Breeana Greenberg is the city reporter for the Dana Point Times. She graduated from Chapman University with a bachelor of arts degree in English. Before joining Picket Fence Media, she worked as a freelance reporter with the Laguna Beach Independent. Breeana can be reached by email at bgreenberg@picketfencemedia.com

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