A 4,000-foot vertical section of pipeline that has spilled tens of thousands of gallons of oil off the Southern California coast was somehow moved about 105 feet "like a bowstring," but officials on Tuesday said they were still investigating what caused the rupture.
Coast Guard officials would not confirm reports that investigators were looking into the possibility that a ship's anchor may have caused the breach in the 17.7-mile pipeline, but the CEO of the company operating the pipeline said such an underwater displacement is "not common."
"I'm not here to speculate about the cause, there will be a full investigation," Martyn Willsher, CEO of Amplify Energy Corp., said at a news conference Tuesday. "Obviously, the pipeline was displaced. It is a 16-inch steel pipeline that's a half-inch thick and covered in an inch of concrete. For it to be moved 105 feet is not common."
The pipeline displacement was discovered by commercial divers that were sent on Monday to investigate the source of the leak, officials said.
On Monday, Willsher called the possibility of an anchor causing the break in the pipe as "one of the distinct possibilities."
On Tuesday, Capt. Rebecca Ore, commanding officer of the US Coast Guard Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach, said she could not confirm the presence of a ship above the pipeline.
The Coast Guard is investigating the cause of the spill, which was confirmed Saturday morning several miles offshore and was estimated to be at least 126,000 gallons. As of early Monday, there was no indication of more oil leaking from the pipe.
"The spill has significantly affected Huntington Beach, with substantial ecological impacts occurring at the beach and the Huntington Beach wetlands," city officials said.
As of Tuesday, 4,788 gallons of crude had been recovered, and more than 300 personnel were deployed to help with cleanup efforts. Eight animals had been found covered in oil, including one dead pelican.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Ore said the initial report of an "unknown sheen" was first made Friday evening to the National Response Center, but that the party that saw the sheen had not provided enough information to find the source.
On Saturday morning, she said, officials received a second report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration after satellite imagery spotted a possible "oil anomaly." Coast Guard crews set out to find the source and location of the sheen "at first light."
Willsher said crews from the company did not spot a sheen or a possible oil leak until Saturday morning.
Authorities asked people to stay out of the water as crews work to contain and clean up the oil, using booms and skimming equipment. The final day of the Pacific Airshow, which had been scheduled to take place around Huntington Beach Pier, was canceled because of cleanup efforts and health concerns.
"The size of the spill demanded prompt and aggressive action," officials said.
Photos and videos from the beach showed blackened sand. Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley said dead birds and fish were already washing ashore early Sunday. The oil caused "significant damage" when it reached a wetlands area in Huntington Beach, she said.
Foley said the oil was postproduction crude, and a local hazmat team was assessing the situation. She added that she's deeply concerned about the impact on the beaches and called for identifying not only how the spill happened, but how to prevent spills in the future.
"The ramifications will extend further than the visible oil and odor that our residents are dealing with at the moment," she said. "The impact to the environment is irreversible."