Regulators badly underestimated the devastation of a possible oil spill off the O.C. coast

Regulators scrutinizing plans for an oil pipeline off the Orange County coast in the 1970s examined the potential damage in the event of a ship anchor strike but downplayed the risks, concluding that a resulting spill would be minor, according to documents reviewed by The Times.

Regulators predicted in 1978 that a leak would result in a spill of only 50 barrels of oil, records show. That’s less than a tenth of the minimum amount of oil that leaked in waters off the Orange County coast this month in an accident investigators believe was caused when a cargo ship waiting to enter the port dropped its anchor and hit the pipeline.

Experts in oil pipeline construction now say the regulators badly underestimated the potential disaster from an anchor strike and missed an opportunity that might have prompted additional safeguards and prevented the major oil spill that fouled a long stretch of Orange County beaches.

“Their presentations were fatally flawed…. In no scenario could you come up with 50 barrels,” said Richard Kuprewicz, the president of Accufacts Inc., who specializes in gas and liquid pipeline investigations. “If there was more frank discussion of what could possibly occur it probably would have initiated discussions on what actions to take, because the risks were severely understated.”

Source: LA Times