U.S. grand jury charges oil company in Orange County spill

A Houston-based oil company and two subsidiaries were indicted Wednesday on a misdemeanor charge for a crude spill that fouled the Orange County coast and waters in October.

Federal prosecutors said Amplify Energy Corp. and its two subsidiaries that operate oil rigs and a pipeline off Long Beach committed a series of negligent acts that led to the oil leaking for hours despite alarms that should have alerted workers to a pipeline rupture.

The pipeline rupture was believed to have been caused when a cargo ship snagged it in high winds months earlier, weakening it before the Oct. 1 spill that dumped about 25,000 gallons of crude oil in the ocean.

The indictment said the companies were negligent by failing to respond to a series of alarms that should have alerted it to the spill more than 13 hours before the pipeline was ultimately shut down.

Prosecutors said the companies acted negligently six ways, including failing to respond to eight leak alarms. The pipeline was restarted several times, spewing more oil into the ocean.

The first alarm sounded at 4:10 p.m. Oct. 1, but the leak was not discovered and reported until about 9 a.m. Citizens on shore reported the strong smell of crude that first afternoon, and an anchored cargo vessel reported a large sheen on the water before sunset.

Even after the eighth and final alarm sounded, the pipeline operated for nearly an hour in the early morning.

Prosecutors said the pipeline was understaffed and crew had not been sufficiently trained in the leak detection system and were fatigued.

If convicted, the charge carries up to five years of probation for the corporation and fines that could total millions of dollars.

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