Pipeline that leaked tens of thousands of gallons of oil into the water off southern California was split open and apparently dragged along the ocean floor, officials say.

Environmental response crews clean the beach after an oil spill in the Pacific Ocean in Huntington Beach, California on October 4, 2021.
Environmental response crews clean the beach after an oil spill in the Pacific Ocean in Huntington Beach, California on October 4, 2021. (AFP)

Authorities have said the pipeline that leaked tens of thousands of gallons of oil into the water off southern California was split open and apparently dragged along the ocean floor.

Coast Guard Captain Rebecca Ore said on Tuesday that divers determined about 4,000 feet of the pipeline was "laterally displaced" by about 105 feet. 

She did not say what might have caused the displacement.

Officials said on Monday that they were considering whether a ship’s anchor might have caused the oil spill that has foulled beaches in Orange County. 

There was no confirmation on Tuesday that the leak was caused by an anchor.

The pipeline had a 13-inch gash in it, Ore said. 

The head of the company that operates the line said the pipe was displaced into "almost a semicircle."

"The pipeline has essentially been pulled like a bow string. And so at its widest point, it is 105 feet away from where it was," Amplify CEO Martyn Willsher said at a news conference.

READ MORE: California officials: Ship's anchor among possible causes of oil spill

Coast Guard says initial oil spill report not enough to act

Meanwhile, the US Coast Guard said it did not investigate initial reports of an oil spill for nearly 12 hours because it didn't have enough corroborating evidence and was hindered by darkness and a lack of technology.

Rear Admiral Brian Penoyer acknowledged that the Coast Guard was alerted on Friday night by a "good Samaritan" that there was a sheen on the water. 

It put out a broadcast to the many cargo and tanker ships anchored off the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports seeking more information but did not receive any supporting reports.

Penoyer said it was common to get reports of a sheen near a busy seaport. 

It would take more than 12 hours before an oil pipeline company reported a spill that could be up to 126,000 gallons of heavy crude.

"In hindsight, it seems obvious, but they didn't know that at that time," Penoyer said. "So putting yourself in the position of what they did know, this is a very normal process."

Notifies for quick response

Two early calls about the spill came into the National Response Center, which is staffed by the Coast Guard and notifies other agencies of disasters for quick response. 

The first was from an anchored ship that noticed a sheen on the water. 

The second came six hours later from a federal agency that said a possible oil slick was spotted on satellite imagery, according to reports by the California Office of Emergency Services.

The spill sent heavy crude into the ocean off Huntington Beach, and it then washed onto miles of beaches and protected marshland. 

Federal and state authorities require rapid reporting of a spill. 

Failure to do so has led to criminal prosecutions of companies, including Plains All American Pipeline, which caused a coastal spill near Santa Barbara in 2015, and Southern California Gas Co. for a massive well blowout later that year.

Restrictions on beaches 

Officials imposed more restrictions on Southern California beaches in response to a large oil spill while more questions emerged about whether the accident was swiftly reported to the Coast Guard and other authorities.

Signs were posted on the famous Huntington Beach declaring that the beach was open but that the ocean and shore were closed. 

On a typical day, surfers would usually be seen bobbing in the waves, but not now. Huntington State Beach still had an oily smell, although it was less severe than the stench emanating from the water on Sunday.

Elsewhere, Orange County officials closed the Dana Point Harbor and a beach for small children. Those closures are in addition to other Dana Point beaches and all beaches in Laguna Beach.

The restrictions were announced a day after oil spill reports reviewed by The Associated Press raised questions about the Coast Guard's response to one of the state's largest recent spills and about how quickly Amplify Energy, the company operating three offshore platforms and the pipeline recognised it had a problem and notified authorities.

The beaches could remain closed for weeks or longer, a major hit to the local economy. 

Coastal fisheries in the area are closed to commercial and recreational fishing.

Source: AP