After a contractor working on an offshore pipeline accidentally released “a solid ball of oil” trapped inside the pipe and it broke up in whitecap waves, globs of decades-old bunker oil washed up on Morro Rock Beach in California Saturday.
The company that owns the defunct pipelines, Dynegy, contracted with Maritime Logistics and its work boat M/V Surveyor to remove the portion of the pipelines underwater that have not been used since the mid-90s.
“The contractor was in the process of capping off the end of the pipe when the oil escaped,” said Meredith Moore, a Dynegy spokesperson. “We had protective measures and equipment in place but the rough seas complicated the situation and allowed for the release.”
The National Weather Service reported winds blowing 10 to 22 mph in that area of Morro Bay Saturday.
According to the Morro Bay Harbor Patrol, the spill of “less than ten gallons” ended up reported around 1:30 p.m. By 3 p.m., workers were on the beach using shovels to scoop up beads of oil on the sand. A tractor took away a front-end bucket’s worth of sand for cleaning.
Dynegy says it notified “all relevant agencies” and “containment booming was deployed,” to clean up what Moore said was about five gallons. Initially the company reported about 25 gallons had spilled but revised the amount based on a report from the diver doing the pipeline work underwater.
The pipelines — parallel pipes sized 16 and 24 inches — connected offshore oil tankers to the Morro Bay Power Plant and were used to load bunker oil into the plant before it was converted to natural gas.
The pipelines have been “kept in caretaker status since the plant stopped using oil for fuel” in 1995, according to the City of Morro Bay.
The pipelines run from the plant, under the dunes near Morro Rock Beach and into the ocean a quarter mile north of Morro Rock.