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Pipeline operator agrees to guilty plea in California spill

SANTA ANA, Calif. — A pipeline operator and two subsidiaries agreed Friday to plead guilty to negligently discharging oil off the Southern California coast regarding the a pipeline break that covered beaches with blobs of crude.

The U.S. attorney’s office in LA said in a statement that Houston-based Amplify Energy and two subsidiaries decided to plead guilty to a misdemeanor and pay a $7 million fine and nearly $6 million in expenses incurred by government entities, like the U.S. Coast Guard. The firms would also use a new leak detection system for pipeline and train employees to recognize and react to potential leaks, the statement said.

Our nations environmental laws are created to protect our communities and oceans from hazardous pollutants, including oil, said Scot Adair, special agent responsible for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agencys criminal investigation division in California. Amplify Energys agreement to plead guilty today demonstrates that companies that negligently violate those laws will undoubtedly be held responsible for his or her crimes.

The plea agreements still have to be approved by U.S. District Judge David Carter.

Amplify Energy, which owns the pipeline that ruptured, said the business has been cooperating with the investigation in to the spill and is focused on operating safely.

We believe this resolution, that is at the mercy of court review and approval, reflects the commitments we made rigtht after the incident to impacted parties, Martyn Willsher, Amplify’s president, said in a statement.

The October 2021 leak in a pipeline that ferried crude oil from offshore platforms to the Southern California coast spilled about 25,000 gallons (94,600 liters) of oil in to the Pacific Ocean.

While less severe than initially feared, the spill about 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) offshore shuttered beaches in surf-friendly Huntington Beach and nearby communities for weekly and fisheries for greater than a month, oiled birds and threatened wetlands the spot has been striving to revive.

U.S. prosecutors charged the firms late this past year with the illegal discharge of oil and failure to react to eight leak detection alarms over a 13-hour period which should have alerted them to the spill.

Amplify contends that two ships dragged their anchors over the pipeline and damaged it throughout a January 2021 storm. Without this damage, Amplify has claimed that the spill wouldn’t normally have happened.

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