Following a two-year investigation into the October 2021 oil spill off Huntington Beach, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) calls for changes to San Pedro Bay oil operations and nationwide communication protocols between offshore oil and shipping companies.
The investigation concluded that the spill, which released 25,000 gallons of crude oil and devastated marine life, was caused by a combination of factors:
- Inadequate buffers: Anchors from two container ships caught on an underwater oil pipeline due to insufficient separation distance.
- Communication gaps: Neither the ships' owners nor the local vessel traffic service notified Amplify Energy, the pipeline owner, about the anchor strikes, preventing prompt assessment and repair.
- Pipeline issues: The NTSB identified operational problems with Amplify's system, including understaffing, inadequate training, and faulty alarm systems.
"The investigation identified serious safety shortcomings that led to this avoidable spill," said NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy.
"We urge the Coast Guard, Amplify Energy, and all offshore oil companies to take immediate action to implement our recommendations and prevent future tragedies."
- Increase buffer zones: Widen buffer zones between oil pipelines and ship anchor points in San Pedro Bay.
- Implement alarm system: Develop a nationwide alarm system to notify authorities when anchored vessels approach pipelines.
- Improve communication: Establish procedures for vessel traffic services to notify pipeline operators of potential incursions.
- Audit pipeline safety: Conduct an audit of Amplify Energy's drug testing program and require all pipeline companies to implement comprehensive safety management systems.
The Coast Guard is not obligated to comply with these recommendations, but the NTSB's findings carry significant weight and will likely influence future regulations and industry practices.
Amplify Energy has made some changes to address the NTSB's findings, including adding staff, conducting leak detection training, and improving its alarm system. However, the NTSB remains concerned about the company's drug testing program and the lack of a comprehensive pipeline safety management system.
The NTSB will continue to monitor the implementation of its recommendations and work with government agencies, industry stakeholders, and the public to ensure the safety of offshore oil operations.
The NTSB's full report, including more than 3,000 pages of information, is available on the agency's website.