Amplify Energy reaches tentative settlement deal in O.C. oil spill lawsuits

The Texas company that operates the oil pipeline that dumped at least 25,000 gallons of crude oil into the waters off Southern California last fall has tentatively agreed to settle more than a dozen lawsuits brought by Orange County business owners and residents.

Houston-based Amplify Energy Corp. chief executive Martyn Willsher did not disclose the terms of the settlement, but said in a statement Thursday that the proposed deal would be a “reasonable and fair solution” to the catastrophic oil spill.

The settlement agreements still require court approval. The company’s insurance policy would cover the cost of the payouts, Amplify Energy said.

The deal would settle civil lawsuits filed in federal court by property owners, business owners and local residents who said they suffered financial repercussions from the October spill. These plaintiffs include owners of coastal properties in Laguna Beach, a surf school in Huntington Beach, a bait and tackle shop in Seal Beach, and several groups of fishing and seafood sales companies.

Willsher said Amplify plans to “vigorously” pursue legal claims against the shipping companies that own and operate two container ships accused of dragging their anchors across the seabed and damaging the pipeline, leading to the spill.

The US Coast Guard has said an anchor hitting and dragging the pipeline could have left the line more vulnerable to other damage or pollution.

Amplify has accused two shipping companies and their subsidiaries based in Switzerland, Panama, Liberia and Greece of unfairly allowing their ships to anchor in San Pedro Bay during a severe winter storm in January 2021.

Driven by 60-mile winds and 17-foot waves, container ships MSC Danit and Cosco Beijing pulled their anchors “into areas where federal law prohibits anchoring,” Amplify’s attorneys said in a February lawsuit against the shipping companies.

Amplify is seeking punitive damages, as well as attorneys’ fees, costs of repairing and replacing the ruptured portions of the pipeline, and lost revenue while the pipeline was out of service.

Willsher said Amplify continues to pursue its lawsuit against the Marine Exchange of Southern California, which monitors and directs traffic in busy San Pedro Bay, alleging that the nonprofit should have been aware of the anchor towing and notified the company.

Amplify has urged the Marine Exchange to notify underwater property owners within 24 hours of possible anchor towing.

In late July, the Orange County board of directors voted 4-1 in closed session to approve a nearly $1 million settlement agreement with Amplify.

In exchange for agreeing not to re-sue the oil company, the county accepted a payment of $956,352 to cover clean-up costs, including legal fees and salaries for workers trying to keep the oil out of sensitive wetlands.

Supervisor Katrina Foley described the settlement as a “win for taxpayers” that covered the county’s immediate costs. Supervisor Andrew Do, the only board member who voted against the deal, said an agreement may be premature.

“We may have claims that may not materialize in the coming years,” Do said at the time. He wished, he said, that the county would “take our time.”

This story will be updated. Amplify Energy reaches tentative settlement deal in O.C. oil spill lawsuits

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