The company that operates an underwater oil pipeline that spewed 25,000 gallons of crude into the ocean off Huntington Beach last year pleaded no contest Friday and agreed to pay $4.9 million in fines to resolve misdemeanor complaint filed by state prosecutors this week.
The plea deal with the Orange County District Attorney and state Attorney General came a day after Amplify Energy Corp. finalized a plea agreement with federal prosecutors.
Amplify Energy attorney Mark Holscher told Orange County Superior Court Judge Larry Yellin that a claims system has been established for victims. About 300 people have made claims, he said. Settlement of a pending class action lawsuit “is imminent,” Holscher added.
Yellin placed the company on a year of informal probation so Amplify must avoid any more oil spills. The company’s subsidiaries Beta Operating Co. and San Pedro Bay Pipeline Co. also pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor complaint filed Wednesday.
“This resolution with the State of California, which follows Amplify’s plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, further reflects the commitments we made immediately following the incident to the communities and environment impacted by the release,” Amplify President/CEO Martyn Willsher said in a statement. “We worked diligently to support the successful cleanup and remediation efforts, including deploying upwards of 1,800 oil spill response contractors, have paid covered claims as expeditiously as possible, and continue to work cooperatively with the various state and federal agencies investigating these matters. Amplify Energy remains committed to safely operating in a way that ensures the protection of the environment and the surrounding communities.”
Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer and Attorney General Rob Bonta filed the misdemeanor criminal complaint against Amplify Energy on Wednesday. The complaint alleged one count of failing to immediately report a discharge of oil in waters of the state, water pollution, two counts of unlawful taking of a fully protected bird and a count of unlawful taking of a migratory nongame bird. The birds listed in the complaint are a brown pelican and Brandt’s Cormorant.
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge David O. Carter sentenced the company to pay a $7.1 million fine and $5.8 million to reimburse the Coast Guard for expenses from the October 2021 spill.
In addition to the fines and fees, the companies would also spend four years on probation and would be required to make a series of operational changes, including improved training, installation of a new leak-detection system and meeting notification requirements, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. In July, Orange County accepted nearly $1 million to settle its portion of litigation with Amplify over the oil spill, covering emergency response and cleanup efforts.
Amplify filed a lawsuit of its own in February against a pair of shipping companies that operated vessels believed to have struck and dragged the pipeline with their anchors.
The pipeline, which is used to carry crude oil from several offshore drilling platforms to a processing plant in Long Beach, began leaking the afternoon of Oct. 1, 2021, but the companies continued pumping oil through the line until the following morning, authorities said last year.
All told, about 25,000 gallons of oil seeped into the ocean from the ruptured 16-inch pipeline, which is submerged about 4.7 miles west of Huntington Beach.
The spill occurred in federal waters at the Elly oil-rig platform, which was built to process crude oil from two other platforms, which draw from a large reservoir called Beta Field. Elly is one of three platforms operated by Beta Operating Co., which is owned by Amplify Energy and also operates Ellen and Eureka nearby. Elly processes oil production from Ellen and Eureka and is fed by some 70 oil wells. The processing platform separates oil from water.
The leak forced the cancellation of the popular Huntington Beach Airshow, which was underway when the spill was detected. Beaches were closed up and down the Orange County coast as crews worked to contain the crude oil.
Federal investigators have said the pipeline appeared to have been damaged by a ship’s anchor, likely belonging to one of dozens of cargo ships that were backlogged over a period of months outside the Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex.
More than a dozen companies doing business in the region sued Amplify Energy Corp. for damages resulting from the spill.
Fishing resumed in late November along the Orange County coast, following a two-month shutdown of fisheries due to the spill. The fishing ban encircled 650 square miles of marine waters and about 45 miles of shoreline, including all bays and harbors from Seal Beach to San Onofre State Beach, officials said.