California attorney general launches investigation into offshore oil spill

California’s attorney general launched an investigation Monday into an offshore oil spill that leaked tens of thousands of gallons of crude into the Pacific Ocean, killing dozens of animals and threatening a wide swath of the Southern California coast.

It isn’t clear whether the investigation will prompt a criminal or civil action, Attorney General Rob Bonta told reporters, but he said the state Justice Department is “prepared to do what is necessary to get a full accounting of what happened, how it happened, who did what when and fully reveal the facts and circumstances of this incident.”

Local authorities are also investigating the ruptured offshore pipeline, which may have leaked 25,000 to 132,000 gallons of oil off Huntington Beach and other coastal communities as far south as Carlsbad, in San Diego County, the Coast Guard said last week.

Crews have been combing through the region’s shoreline since a commercial vessel first reported the spill at about 6 p.m. on Oct. 1.

The Oiled Wildlife Care Network, a conservation group affiliated with the University of California, Davis, said Monday that 74 oiled birds and fish have been recovered from the area. Thirty-eight of them were dead, the group said.

U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., who flew over the region Monday with Bonta, told reporters that cleanup crews had made “tremendous progress.”

“Trust me, we looked but did not see any big patches of oil on the surface of the water,” he said.

Officials running the cleanup operation said Sunday that 5,544 gallons of crude oil and nearly 14 barrels of tar balls had been recovered.

Authorities said last week that the pipeline, which is operated by a subsidiary of Amplify Energy Corp. of Houston, showed signs of an anchor strike, although it wasn’t clear how many times the pipeline was struck or when the damage occurred.

Capt. Jason Neubauer, chairman of the Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation, said a 13-inch section of the pipeline’s concrete casing had been fractured.

Tim Stelloh is a reporter for NBC News based in California.

Andrew Blankstein

Andrew Blankstein is an investigative reporter for NBC News. He covers the Western United States, specializing in crime, courts and homeland security. 

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