LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) – Some of the crude oil that spilled from a pipeline into waters off Southern California has naturally dispersed into ocean currents, a guard official said on Wednesday. coasts as authorities sought to determine the extent of the damage. .

Coast Guard Petty Officer Steve Strohmaier said some of the oil was pushed south by the currents. Storms earlier in the week may have also helped to disperse the oil, which he says could make it more difficult to foam as it expands.

“Most of this oil separates and begins to float further south,” he said, accompanying reporters aboard a boat to the site of the spill. “The biggest problem is the uncertainty, the amount that has leaked into the water. At this point, we are not sure of the total amount that has leaked. “

The pipeline operator, Amplify Energy Corp., has publicly set the maximum quantity for the spill at 126,000 gallons (572,807 liters) of heavy crude. But the company told federal investigators from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration that initial measurements only put the total at around 29,400 gallons (111,291 liters).

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Water and shore are still off-limits in Huntington Beach and several other areas, but people are allowed on the sand. Beachgoers played volleyball on the sands of Huntington Beach on Wednesday morning as walkers and cyclists passed by the town’s famous pier. A few scoops of oil were visible along the shore but no scent remained.

Investigators said the spill may have been caused by the anchor of a ship that snagged, dragged and tore an underwater pipeline. Federal officials also found that the owner of the pipeline did not quickly shut down operations after a security system alerted of a possible spill.

Questions remained about the timeline of the weekend’s spill, which tainted beaches and a protected swamp, potentially shutting them down for weeks, along with commercial and recreational fishing, a major blow to the local economy.

Some reports of a possible spill, a smell of petroleum and an oily sheen on the waters off Huntington Beach arrived Friday night but were unsubstantiated and the pipeline operator, Amplify Energy Corp. , did not report a spill until the next morning, authorities said.

An alarm went off in a company control room at 2:30 a.m. Saturday, indicating that pressure had dropped in the pipeline, indicating a possible leak, but Amplify waited until 6:01 a.m. to shut down the pipeline, according to the findings. preliminary investigation into the spread.

The Houston-based company took three extra hours to notify the U.S. Coast Guard’s National Response Center of the oil spill, investigators said, further slowing the response to an accident Amplify workers spent years to prepare.

However, Amplify CEO Martyn Willsher insisted the company was not aware of the spill until it saw a shard in the water at 8:09 a.m.

The company’s spill response plan provides for immediate notification of a spill. Criminal charges have been laid in the past when a company took too long to notify federal and state authorities of a spill.

Federal transportation investigators said on Tuesday the pipe had been split to a depth of about 98 feet (30 meters) and that a section nearly a kilometer long had been pulled along the seabed, may –being by an anchor that caught it and caused a partial tear, federal transportation investigators said.

“The pipeline has basically been pulled like a bowstring,” Willsher said. “At its widest point, it is 105 feet (32 meters) from where it was.”

Huge freighters regularly cross the pipeline as they make their way to the massive Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex. They are given the coordinates of where they should anchor until unloading.

Anchored cargo ships move continuously due to changing winds and tides, and a misplaced anchor weighing 10 tonnes (9 metric tonnes) or more can drag “whatever anchor is fouled,” said Steven Browne, professor of shipping to the State of California. University Maritime Academy.

There was no indication whether investigators suspected a particular vessel was involved.

“We’re going to make sure we have answers as to how this happened and make sure we hold the responsible party accountable,” said Congresswoman Katie Porter, a Democrat who chairs the oversight subcommittee. and investigation by the House Natural Resources Committee. . It represents a district a few kilometers inland from the dumping area.

Rescuers on land were pleasantly surprised to find a few birds covered in oil.

During a two-hour boat trip off the coast of Huntington Beach, an AP video journalist saw no visible oil. Pelicans and other seabirds floated on calm waters and four dolphins swam beside the boat.

Meanwhile, Coast Guard officials defended their decision to wait until Saturday morning to investigate a possible spill first reported on Friday night – about 10 hours earlier – near a group of boats anchored off the coast of Huntington Beach.

At 2:06 a.m. Saturday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said satellite images showed the high likelihood of an oil spill. The report was forwarded to the National Response Center, a hazardous spill hotline operated by the Coast Guard.

Residents at nearby Newport Beach had also complained about a strong smell of petroleum on Friday night, and police have issued a public advisory about it.

The Coast Guard was alerted to a shard in the water by a “Good Samaritan,” but lacked sufficient corroborating evidence and was hampered by the darkness and lack of technology to search for the spill, said Coast Guard Rear Admiral Brian Penoyer to The Associated Press.

Penoyer said it was quite common to get reports of oil reflections in a large seaport.

“Looking back, it seems obvious, but they didn’t know it at the time,” Penoyer said.

Associated Press editors Michael Blood and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles, Kathleen Ronayne in Sacramento, Michael Biesecker in Washington, and Eugene Garcia and Amy Taxin in Huntington Beach, Calif., Contributed to this report.

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