California Coast Guard officials are now saying that the breach in the oil pipeline near Huntington Beach in southern California could have occurred several months to even a year before the actual 596,000 liter spill. According to The LA Times, Investigators suspect an initial anchor strike displaced a portion of the pipeline 32 meters and stripped away its concrete casing, causing it to be more vulnerable to other potential anchor strikes or environmental stressors.
Jason Neubauer, Coast Guard Captain, said the pipeline was intact in October 2020 when Amplify Energy, the operator, last did an inspection. It is not clear when the pipe began leaking or what caused it. But the marine growth visible around the displaced section of the pipeline indicates the anchor drag likely didn’t happen recently, Neubauer said. And this significant fact has "refocused the Coast Guard time frame of the investigation to at least several months to a year ago," Neubauer asserted.
Coast Guard investigators plan to bring in experts to determine how long ago the pipe was damaged and when it began leaking. The officials sent down their own team of divers to gather evidence for the probe separate from the dive team hired by the joint unified command. Furthermore they examined several ships that were in the area last week and concluded that none of them are likely responsible for the damaged pipeline, two sources told The Times on Friday. The sources spoke to The Times on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. However, Neubauer said investigators have not ruled out any vessels.
Neubauer further noted that investigators will pore over data detailing which large vessels moved over the pipeline amid heavy winds on January 24 and 25. They’re also going to review data that shows every vessel that has moved over the pipeline or encroached on it since last October, Neubauer said.
The Huntington Beach spill was the Golden State's largest such disaster since a 1994 earthquake split open a pipeline and poured about 528,000 liters into the sea.