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Class-action lawsuit filed against energy companies following Huntington Beach oil spill


(LOS ANGELES) — A proposed class-action lawsuit has been filed against the companies who run the oil line that dumped hundreds of thousands of crude oil off the coast of California over the weekend.

The federal lawsuit, filed Monday in the Central District of California Western Division, claimed the companies in charge of operating the rig and connected pipelines caused harm to people, wildlife and the local ecosystem by failing to prevent the spill from the platform about 4.5 miles from shore, known as “Elly.”

The lawsuit also accuses the defendants of failing to warn or provide the public with “adequate and timely notice of the hazards and their impacts.”

“At the time of this complaint’s filing, deceased animals were washing up covered in oil on the shorelines of the Affected Area and a large ecological reserve nearby had suffered tremendous damage,” the lawsuit stated, defining the “Affected Area” as the stretch of coast between Huntington Beach and Newport Beach and the defendants as Amplify Energy Corporation its subsidiary, the Beta Operating Company and other affiliates that may also hold responsibility.

A maximum of 144,000 gallons leaked into the Pacific Ocean after a pipe broke Saturday morning, according to officials. By early Sunday morning, the oil had reached the shore, fanning out over an area of about 5.8 nautical miles and entering the Talbert Marshlands and the Santa Ana River Trail, according to the city of Huntington Beach.

As a result, nearby beaches were closed to facilitate the cleanup and prevent residents from inhaling toxic fumes from the crude oil. Dana Point Harbor, about 30 miles south of Huntington Beach, became the latest location to close on Tuesday morning.

About 300 people are currently cleaning up the oil spill and an additional 1,500 people will be working on the effort by Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday afternoon.

The main plaintiff in the lawsuit, Peter Moses Gutierrez, is a disc jockey who frequently performs on Huntington Beach, according to the lawsuit. Gutierrez expects to lose a “substantial amount” of business in the foreseeable future as a result of the spill, the complaint alleges.

Gutierrez and other plaintiffs claim they have also been exposed to toxins from the oil, according to the lawsuit.

The nearly 18-mile Elly pipeline and the facilities that operate it were built in the late 1970s and early 1980s, according to the lawsuit.

The pipeline was likely leaking before the damage was discovered Saturday morning, Orange County supervisor Katrina Foley stated over the weekend. Officials from a division of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife stated in a report that they were notified of an “observed sheen” off the Huntington Beach coast at 10:22. p.m. on Friday, according to documents obtained by ABC News.

The U.S. Coast Guard was notified of the leak on Saturday morning, Amplify CEO Martyn Willsher told reporters.

In a letter to Amplify Energy Corp., the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration demanded corrective actions to the failed pipeline following the leak. In the letter, the associate administrator for pipeline safety said the oil platform’s control room received low-pressure alarms on the San Pedro Bay Pipeline at around 2:30 a.m. PDT Saturday, indicating a possible failure. But the line was not shut down until 6:01 a.m. — 3 and a half hours later.

Then, “over six hours after the initial alarm and three hours after the company shut down the pipeline, Beta Offshore reported the Accident to the National Response Center (NRC) indicating there was a release of crude oil in the vicinity of its pipeline near Platform Elly,” the letter states.

The U.S. Coast Guard submitted a second NRC report at 03:41 p.m. ET, on Sunday reporting oiled marine life and dead fish, according to the letter, and the U.S. Coast Guard submitted a third NRC report later that day, at 05:20 p.m., reporting that the failure may have been caused by a crack in the pipeline.

Officials are looking into whether a ship anchor struck the underwater pipeline, damaging it, Willsher told reporters at a news conference Monday.

Newsom met with Orange County officials Tuesday afternoon and said he supports their calls to shift away from using fossil fuels. He said he will not support new offshore drilling in California.

“This tragedy did not need to occur and does not need to persist into the future,” he said.

Newsom said more permits were sought in 2020 to abandon oil drilling sites compared to permits establishing new ones. There hasn’t been a new offshore lease in half a century, “and there won’t be,” he said.

The governor added that more volunteers will be allowed to help with the cleanup as long as they take a four-hour course on proper procedure.

The plaintiffs are requesting a jury trial to determine whether the defendants violated state laws and whether the defendants breached a duty and caused harm to the plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit. The jury will also be asked whether restitution and compensatory or consequential damages should be awarded to the plaintiffs.

Representatives for the Amplify Energy Corporation did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment. Calls to the Beta Operating Company were not answered.

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