A Costa Mesa bait and tackle shop has filed a proposed class-action lawsuit against oil pipeline company Amplify Energy Corp. on behalf of Orange County businesses seeking damages related to the oil spill, it was announced Tuesday.
Ketcham Tackle contends that it derives over 90% of its revenue from tackle and fishing gear used for saltwater fishing in the Pacific Ocean. The store outfits many of the sport fishing boats that operate out of Orange County, and those boats and other customers depend upon access to clean ocean water — but now can no longer fish in the polluted area, according to the complaint filed Monday in Santa Ana federal court.
Ketcham’s setback is a “direct and foreseeable” consequence of Amplify Energy’s wrongful acts and/or omissions, the lawsuit alleges.
A message seeking comment from a representative of Amplify Energy was not immediately answered.
“The Orange County oil spill is an environmental and economic tragedy that is devastating to many individuals and business who rely on the area’s beautiful coastline for their livelihood and recreational activities,” plaintiffs’ attorney Steven Williams said.
“Defendants have a long history of violations and non-compliance with industry standards, and their inexcusable delay in reporting and handling the Oct. 2 spill has made a dire situation much worse,” the attorney contends. “They must be held accountable. We are grateful for the opportunity to help Ketcham and a proposed class obtain economic and injunctive relief during this disastrous time for Orange County coastal residents.”
According to reports, well over 50 vessels were waiting to berth in San Pedro Bay at the time of the spill, Williams said. He alleged that such a backlog resulted in larger ships anchoring closer to pipelines, internet cables, and other hazards due to a lack of space.
Preliminary reports indicate the pipeline rupture that leaked the oil may have been caused by a passing ship’s anchor that hooked the pipeline, causing a partial tear, the suit states.
The Coast Guard’s lead investigator into the spill said last week that the ruptured underwater pipeline might have been damaged several months to a year ago, adding that it’s unclear when the crack occurred or when oil began seeping into the water.
The plaintiffs allege that despite knowledge of the chance of such an occurrence during port congestion, Houston-based Amplify Energy failed to reasonably inspect the affected pipeline, “which carries ultra-hazardous materials, and was severely damaged at the time of the contaminating breach.”
Williams alleged that the defendants were aware that area ports were beset by long backups, yet failed to implement proper procedures to protect against the increased risk of damage to the pipeline and did not perform effective regular inspections.
The plaintiffs are seeking class certification and a judgment against Amplify Energy for economic damages, punitive and/or exemplary damages, creation of a fund to environmentally and economically monitor the marine habitat in the affected area, and other relief the court or a jury may find necessary.
Other proposed class-action suits have been filed by Orange County property and business owners.
While the spill was not reported until 9 a.m. on Oct. 2, some people reported smelling oil in the water the night before.
As cleanup work continued Tuesday and more Orange County beaches reopened, state officials announced multiple inquiries into the cause of the oil leak.
State Attorney General Rob Bonta and U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla toured the site and received a briefing from U.S. Coast Guard officials Monday before Bonta announced his office is investigating the leak to determine if any civil or criminal action is warranted.
Authorities initially estimated that as much as 144,000 gallons of oil may have leaked from the damaged pipeline, but officials subsequently said the actual amount is likely much lower, although there is still no firm number.
At a news conference Thursday afternoon, USCG Capt. Rebecca Ore estimated that roughly 588 barrels of oil had spilled, which would equate to about 24,700 gallons. That’s being considered a minimum amount leaked, with officials estimating a maximum potential of around 130,000 gallons.