Pipeline Operator Accepts $50 Million Spill Settlement in California | Nation and World

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — A pipeline operator has agreed to pay $50 million to thousands of Southern California fishermen, tourism businesses and landowners who sued after a spill of offshore oil last year near Huntington Beach.

A proposed settlement between Amplify Energy Corp., owner of the pipeline that ruptured in October 2021 and spilled 25,000 gallons (94,600 liters) of crude oil into the Pacific Ocean, and the businesses and residents has been filed Monday in federal court in Santa Ana, court documents show.

Under the proposal, the Houston-based energy company would pay $34 million to commercial fishers and $9 million to coastal landowners. It would also pay $7 million to shoreline tourism operators, including businesses that offer surf lessons and recreational cruises and shops that sell swimwear and fishing bait.

A federal judge must still approve the proposal for it to take effect. A hearing is scheduled for November 16.

“This is a truly dramatic first step and dramatic compensation for these victims of this terrible tragedy,” said Wylie Aitken, co-lead attorney for the plaintiffs, who he puts the number at more than 10,000. “Although it’s not 100%, it’s very substantial and very helpful and good compensation for them. We’ll keep trying to get every penny they deserve.

The proposal requires Amplify to install a leak detection system and provide spill training to employees, steps the company also agreed to as part of a plea deal with federal authorities. It would also require Amplify to increase headcount at an offshore oil rig, according to court documents.

The leak occurred about 4 miles offshore and sent drops of crude oil ashore in Huntington Beach and other coastal communities. Although less severe than initially feared, the spill shut down area beaches for a week, fishing for more than a month, oiled birds and endangered wetlands.

Amplify did not comment on Tuesday and referred to a statement released when the deal was reached in August, calling it a “reasonable and fair resolution.” The company said it would continue to seek damages from ships accused of dragging anchor and damaging the pipeline months before the leak.

Amplify has $200 million in liability insurance coverage for claims related to the spills, and as of March the company had incurred costs of about $111 million, according to court documents filed by the plaintiffs.

Earlier this year, Amplify reached a plea deal with federal authorities for negligently releasing crude oil. The company, which authorities say failed to respond to leak detection system alarms that should have alerted workers to the spill, agreed to pay $13 million in fines and agency costs governmental.

Amplify alleges that two commercial vessels damaged its pipeline when they dragged their anchors over it during a January 2021 storm. The proposed settlement does not apply to the operators of those vessels or an organization that helps monitor traffic shipping, which was also in dispute.

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