US grand jury charges oil company in California spill

A Los Angeles federal grand jury has charged a Texas oil company and two subsidiaries for an oil spill off the California coast in October

LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles federal grand jury on Wednesday charged a Houston-based oil company and two subsidiaries for an oil spill off the California coast in October.

Federal prosecutors said Amplify Energy Corp. and its two subsidiaries that operate oil rigs and a pipeline off Long Beach were charged with a misdemeanor for illegally discharging oil.

The pipeline rupture was believed to have been caused when a cargo ship snagged it with an anchor earlier in the year, weakening it months before the spill that dumped about 25,000 gallons (94,600 liters) 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.

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

It’s not clear why it took so long for the 1/2-inch (1.25-centimeter) thick steel line to leak, or whether another anchor strike or other incident led to the rupture and spill. But experts say a properly functioning leak detection system might have been able to catch that things were amiss before an oil sheen spotted on the surface led to the leak’s discovery.

The spill came ashore at Huntington Beach and forced about a weeklong closure of that city’s beaches and others along the Orange County coast. Fishing in the affected area resumed only recently, after testing confirmed fish did not have unsafe levels of oil toxins.

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