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OC Harbor Patrol searched for possible oil spill hours earlier than first believed; timeline of events still confusing – Orange County Register

After hearing radio chatter about possible oil in the ocean on the evening of Oct. 1, an Orange County Sheriff’s Harbor Patrol boat tried to search for a spill off Huntington Beach just before dark, according to new information from the Sheriff’s Department.

That was hours before authorities initially reported the spill, and before thousands of spectators gathered in boats and onshore for the second day of the Pacific Airshow.

Finding nothing before the sun went down, the deputies gave up until the next morning.

The spill of about 25,000 gallons of crude oil came from a 13-inch split in a pipeline connected to an oil rig off the Orange County coast. It’s still unclear exactly when the spill began or how long oil was leaking, and discrepancies in official accounts of what happened and when have added to the confusion.

Had the spill been confirmed earlier, officials might have been able to act sooner to position booms near wetlands and beaches and take other measures to keep as much oil from the shore as possible.

In a statement released Thursday, the Sheriff’s Department said Harbor Patrol staff who were already on the water for the Pacific Airshow searched for an oil sheen after hearing boaters talking about a smell and a possible fuel spill around 5:30 p.m. Oct. 1; at 6:15 p.m. the sheriff’s dispatch heard a cargo ship make a similar report.

About two hours later, at 8 p.m., U.S. Coast Guard officials contacted the Harbor Patrol to ask for help in tracking down the possible spill, but everyone decided it was too dark for a search to be productive and they’d go in the morning, the Sheriff’s Department statement said.

The statement was apparently intended to clear up confusion due to an internal department memo from Oct. 3 that was first released to the Associated Press. The original memo suggested the Coast Guard had reached out to the Harbor Patrol several hours before 8 p.m. Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Carrie Braun said a sergeant wrote the memo after speaking with staff who were on duty Oct. 1 and some details got jumbled.

The Sheriff’s Department statement still doesn’t completely match the Coast Guard’s account of the timeline.

Lt. Cmdr. Jeannie Shaye said Thursday the Coast Guard first heard of a potential oil spill when a container ship called around 6:30 p.m. Oct. 1 to report a sheen on the water.

Around 7 p.m. Oct. 1, the Coast Guard began coordinating with state Fish and Wildlife and the OC Harbor Patrol, but as it was dark by then and Harbor Patrol staff had been on the water all day for the air show, “it was decided by all three agencies to wait until first light to search in the morning,” Shaye said.

She said the Coast Guard did send personnel out with the Harbor Patrol around 7:30 a.m. Saturday, and she didn’t know why the accounts of what happened Friday don’t match. The Sheriff’s Department statement said they located some of the oil around 9 a.m.; a larger plume was then discovered farther offshore.

Questions about when notifications came in about the spill and the timeliness of the response have been floating around.

Since the early days after the spill, no one involved in the investigation has shed light on why a federal pipeline regulator reported that a low pressure alarm on the platform connected to the damaged pipeline went off at 2:30 a.m. Saturday and the pipeline was shut down at 6:01 a.m., but the CEO of Amplify Energy (of which Beta Offshore is a subsidiary) has said the company didn’t know of a spill until just after 8 a.m. Saturday.

Amplify Energy said Thursday in an emailed statement that it “began making the required notifications when it first learned of oil on the water the morning of October 2. Given the ongoing investigations, we are not in a position to comment further at this time.”

Some local officials said it’s not clear that the responding agencies could have done more when reports of a potential spill first began coming in.

Newport Beach Mayor Brad Avery said he saw oil on the water when returning from Catalina in his boat the morning of Oct. 2, but he thought it could have come from a vessel pumping out bilge water with fuel mixed in – a common occurrence.

“If they chased down every report of … oil on the water, that would be some work – especially at night,” he said.

But Huntington Beach Councilman Dan Kalmick noted that news reports said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration received satellite images the night of Oct. 1 showing an anomaly that could be an oil slick. He said if city officials had known that at the time, they might have tried looking for it with their helicopter’s infrared camera.

“I did feel that notification was a little lacking,” Kalmick said. “Friday night (Oct. 1) would have been nice to have someone notify us.”

A city spokeswoman has said Huntington Beach officials first learned of the spill around 9 a.m. Oct. 2.

OC District 2 Supervisor Katrina Foley said she has had questions since early on about the timeline that’s been publicly reported, but to point the finger at the Coast Guard and other responders is “a distraction from what’s ultimately the responsibility of the oil company.”

However, if any steps in the spill response did fall short, “then we all need to know that and address it and fix it moving forward so it doesn’t happen again,” she said. “We can’t be afraid to talk about mistakes.”

Read More: OC Harbor Patrol searched for possible oil spill hours earlier than first believed; timeline of events still confusing – Orange County Register

2021-10-21 21:10:50

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