Federal lawmakers are demanding more information on the massive oil spill off the coast of Orange County as a legislative battle looms over whether to include a ban on future offshore drilling in a scaled-down $3.5-trillion bill.
The House Oversight and Reform Committee on Wednesday requested records from federal agencies to figure out whether regulatory failings contributed to a pipeline spilling an estimated 144,000 gallons of crude oil into the Pacific Ocean. In a letter to federal regulators, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, (D-N.Y.), and five Democratic members from the California delegation described troubling compliance issues with Amplify Energy’s San Pedro Bay Pipeline. This is the pipeline that was responsible for last week’s oil spillage.
The legislators are asking for briefings and documents regarding federal inspections of San Pedro Bay Pipeline. Also, documents detailing enforcement actions against Amplify since January 1, 2011.
The lawmakers wrote that the Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement has documented about 125 noncompliance incidents by Beta since 2011, which led to at least 53 warnings, 71 “component shut-in violations” and a “facility shut-off” violation. According to the lawmakers, multiple warnings have been issued by Transportation Departments Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to Beta since 2008,, including a Tuesday corrective action order.
“This letter, obtained by The Times, explains that the pipeline should have been monitored with an automated leak detection system. Local officials are concerned that the spillage will cause irreversible damage. Dead birds and oil-covered fish are still being found along the coasts of the ocean, despite efforts to limit the damage. The extent of the ecological damage has yet to be determined.”
In a statement, Maloney called the images coming from the waters off the Orange County coast “devastating.”
“This oil spill has wreaked havoc on the California coastline and its wildlife, while putting the health of nearby communities at risk,” Maloney said. “The consequences of these types of oil spills are often long-lasting, and I am committed to seeking accountability for those responsible and reforms to prevent similar tragedies in the future.”
In an interview, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Fremont), who chairs the oversight panel’s environment subcommittee and signed the letter, said lawmakers want to understand what led to the oil spill and why Amplify failed to report the oil spill to the National Response Center until at least 10 hours after federal and California authorities learned of the incident. Khanna and other lawmakers also wrote that the company did not notify local officials or the public about the oil spillage until several hours after it informed the response center.
“What are we doing to stop these violations from happening in California again? And why was it that people did not know about the leak until too late, hours after it happened?” he inquired. “Why is this happening?”
Khanna said he expected regulatory agencies to cooperate with members of Congress and stressed that “we have to understand the past violations of the pipeline safety regulations and why those violations continue.” What went wrong?”
Khanna said he expects regulatory agencies to cooperate with members of Congress and stressed that “we have to understand the past violations of the pipeline safety regulations and why those violations continue.”
The letter was addressed to the acting directors of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, and it was signed by Maloney, Khanna and Reps. Alan Lowenthal, Katie Porter, Mike Levin and Nanette Diaz Barragan.
Federal lawmakers are also seeking to take legislative action. Senators. Senators.
“Budget reconciliation provides us with an opportunity to construct the energy policy of the future and avoid the worst impacts of climate change,” the senators wrote in the letter to Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “We must take advantage of this opportunity and ban all future offshore oil and gas drilling along West Coast. We must also reflect the will of our constituents.” Doing so would help build a cleaner, more sustainable energy future.”
Padilla told MSNBC on Wednesday that the spill is “the most recent reminder to why we need to end offshore oil drilling, both because of the ecological disasters and economic impacts that disasters like this have.”
The proposed ban on future offshore drilling will need the support of every single Democrat in the Senate and most in the House in order to pass. Levin (D. San Juan Capistrano), who was in his district since Saturday and visited the spillage Monday by boat and helicopter, stated that he could see oil reaching Dana Point. He is currently working to ensure that a ban on future offshore drilling remains in the House reconciliation bill.
“It’s in the bill now — Page 984,” he said. I have not received any indications that it would be removed. I’m optimistic that it will stay.”
Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), who sponsored the House version of the bill that California’s senators are also supporting, sounded confident that drilling prohibitions would not suffer from the same party divisions that have bogged down Democrats’ domestic policy package.
” I’m not going say it’s a lock. He said that he was encouraged by the news. “Among the Democrats needed to get to 50 in the Senate, there are no champions of offshore drilling.”
Some environmental advocates said they are disappointed the proposals don’t go further to phase out drilling that’s currently taking place or to require that old offshore oil platforms be decommissioned. Oil and gas companies with existing leases will still be able apply to the federal government to drill new wells, even if it becomes law.
” We need to see a reduction in existing drilling,” stated Miyoko Sakashita (center for biological diversity oceans program director). “All of these offshore platforms are just waiting to be the next oil spill.”
At the state level, multiple elected officials are also calling for oversight hearings. Following a report by The Times that said the Coast Guard was alerted to the incident on Friday night, state and local leaders have raised concerns about their initial response.
The Coast Guard didn’t survey the area until Monday morning due to inconclusive data and difficulties in surveying in the dark. This despite a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration stating that one of its satellites detected a sheen that it believed was oil.
State legislators also have questions about the operator and condition of the equipment. Some lawmakers are calling for an increase in the ban on drilling in state waters.
Assemblywoman Janet Nguyen (R-Huntington Beach), whose district has beaches that were hit with oil, said that she and other legislators “want a full investigation. And I want to hold people accountable for this incident.”
Times staff writers Anita Chabria, Chris Megerian and Anna Phillips contributed to this report.