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Feds blasted over aging oil platforms off Southern California coast

The Center for Biological Diversity claims a group of oil platforms are still operating under outdated plans even though they had been expected to cease production years ago.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — The federal government got hit with another lawsuit over a group of oil drilling and processing platforms off the coast of Southern California that were involved in an oil spill this past October.

The Center for Biological Diversity says in a complaint filed Wednesday in Los Angeles that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has allowed oil companies to operate the platforms under "woefully outdated" development and production plans despite a host of information that those plans do not reflect current science, the scope of activities at the platforms, or environmental and safety standards, which is a violation of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act.

"While all offshore drilling is treacherous, the age of the infrastructure off California — some of which has been littering the Pacific Ocean for over half a century — heightens the numerous inherent risks," the center said. "Indeed, much of this infrastructure has outlived its expected lifespan and is well beyond the age scientists say significantly increase the risk of oil spills."

The lawsuit pertains to three drilling platforms and one processing platform at the so-called Beta Unit field off the coast of Huntington Beach that have been in operation since the early 1980s. The original development and production plans for the platforms estimated they would have ceased operation and been removed by 2015 at the latest, according to the environmentalist organization.

A spokesperson for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said the agency doesn't comment on litigation.

This past October, a 17-mile pipeline which ran from the platforms to a processing plant in Long Beach was damaged by a 1,200-foot cargo ship dragging its anchor in rough seas. However, the pipeline did not tear until months later. Houston-based Amplify Energy Corp. and two of its subsidiaries agreed to plead guilty to violating the federal Clean Water Act, pay a $7.1 million criminal fine and $5.8 million in compensation for the discharge of approximately 25,000 gallons of crude oil in the ocean.

The platforms' unanticipated longevity combined with scientific data about the risks of corrosion, erosion, and fatigue stress to subsea pipelines, as well as changes in the equipment on the platforms, means the original plans from the 1970s and 80s can no longer be relied on, the center said. Yet, a Freedom of Information Act request for records from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management showed the original plans hadn't been reviewed as the law requires, the plaintiffs said.

The center sued the federal government already in January over the group of four platforms, that time under the Endangered Species Act. That lawsuit was stayed last month to give the federal agencies more time to complete a reinstated review of the risk oil spills in the area may pose for humpback populations.

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