After a ruptured oil pipeline sent as many as 144,000 gallons of deadly crude spilling into the ocean off the Orange County coast over the weekend, a federal lawsuit has been filed in an attempt to recoup damages for people and businesses impacted by the mess. The main plaintiff in the proposed class-action suit, a disc jockey named Peter Moses Gutierrez Jr. who performs on Huntington Beach, says the company that operates the off-shore facility had a duty to prevent the spill and should be held responsible for its impacts.
“After years fighting for business owners and residents devastated by the BP oil spill in the Gulf Coast and other oil spill victims around the country, we understand the terrible impact these events have on the environment, wildlife, and people,” attorney, Alex R. Straus, said.
The outfit in charge of the ruptured oil line, Beta Operating Company, has a history of violating safety and ecological regulations dating back to the pre-Reagan era. Data from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement shows that Beta Operating has been cited 125 times since 1980—100 of those incidents occurring in just the last 11 years, CNN reports. Of the grand total, 53 were warnings, 71 were “component shut-in” violations, and one was a “facility shut-in” violation.
According to the agency’s database, warnings must be corrected “within a reasonable amount of time” specified by the agency, while shut-in violations “must be corrected before the operator is allowed to continue the activity in question.”
Beta—a subsidiary of Texas-based drillers Amplify Energy—was fined $85,000 for three incidents in 2013 and 2014, including one in which “crude oil was released through a flare boom.” In 2012, a falling piece of equipment injured an employee’s head and face, while in 2014 a worker who wasn’t wearing the proper safety gear was shocked “by an estimated 98,000 volts” of electricity. Fortunately, it’s the amps, not the volts, that kill, and the volts in question were running “at very low amperage.”
Beta received its latest warning on September 29, just three days before the spill, but details about that notice are not available.
While the Coast Guard is now investigating whether a commercial ship’s anchor caused the accident by dragging the pipeline, it now appears that the calamity could have been even worse.
At a press conference Monday, Oiled Wildlife Care Network director Michael Ziccardi said he is “cautiously optimistic” because only four oily birds had been found so far, although one of them had to be euthanized.
“It’s much better than we had feared,” Ziccardi said, but added that it was not thanks to the Coast Guard or local officials, whose response times he felt lacked urgency. “By the time it comes to the beach, it’s done tremendous damage. Our frustration is, it could have been averted if there was a quick response.”
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed Monday want a jury trial to determine whether the company violated state laws and caused them harm. ABC News wasn’t able to reach Amplify Energy or Beta Operating for comment.
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