Los Angeles (AFP)
The U.S. Coast Guard is investigating a possible anchor strike as the cause of a ruptured pipeline that spewed tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil into the sea off California, media reported Tuesday.
Emergency responders say up to 131,000 gallons of thick, sticky fuel have polluted waters that are home to seals, dolphins and whales since a pipeline ruptured over the weekend.
A 15-mile (24-kilometer) stretch of coastline has been closed to the public and fishing has been halted as crews scramble to clean up one of California’s biggest spills in decades.
The Los Angeles Times reported on Tuesday that the Coast Guard was trying to determine whether a large commercial vessel had dropped anchor in the wrong location and damaged the pipeline.
Martyn Willsher, general manager of pipeline operator Amplify Energy, said underwater observations revealed that the 4,000 feet (1,200 meters) of the pipeline was not where it should be.
“The pipeline has basically been pulled like a bowstring,” he told a press conference.
“At its widest point, it’s 105 feet from where it was,” he said, adding that the pipeline rupture was at the top of that bend.
Willsher declined to speculate on the cause of this displacement and whether a ship’s anchor could be responsible for it, but said: “It’s a 16 inch steel pipeline that is half an inch thick and covered with an inch of concrete.
“For it to be moved 105 feet, that’s not common. “
Los Angeles and Long Beach are among the busiest container ports in the world.
Traffic jams caused by a pandemic have seen dozens of huge container ships parked offshore awaiting a berth.
Ships are assigned designated anchor points, usually away from underwater hazards such as pipelines.
But the Los Angeles Times quoted a source familiar with the oil spill investigation, who said that a misplaced anchor may have dragged the pipeline along the seabed.
Officials from a “United Command” coordination group said there were 14 ships attempting to scavenge oil from the water, with just over 4,700 gallons collected on Tuesday.
“Our main priorities remain the safety of health and human life, the protection of the environment, the protection of wildlife and the search and elimination of this oil as we detect it,” said said Coast Guard Captain Rebecca Ore.
Ore added that the precise amount of oil that had entered the water was not known, but the recovery effort used a “worst case scenario” equivalent to 131,000 gallons. This figure is slightly higher than the previously widely reported figure.
– Affected fauna –
At least eight birds have been found covered in oil, and other wildlife has also been reported.
The spill originated near the Elly Platform, which was built in 1980 and is one of 23 oil and gas drilling platforms in federal waters off California, the Los Angeles Times reported. .
Environmentalists have repeatedly drawn attention to the age of some of the facilities – which they say are rusty and poorly maintained – and the risks they pose.
The disaster reignited a debate over the presence of oil rigs and pipelines near the southern California coast.
© 2021 AFP