Orange County oil spill: Laguna Beach property owners filing lawsuit

Laguna Beach waterfront property owners have filed a lawsuit against the company that owns the oil rig and underwater pipeline at the center of a massive leak off the coast of Huntington Beach, seeking damages for loss of enjoyment, potential lowered property values and diminished rental income.

Stephen and Kristin Samuelian and SK5-Keller Legacy LLC allege that a rupture in the pipeline owned by Amplify Energy Corp. could have been averted if the company had adequately maintained the line and acted quickly when the spill began, according to the lawsuit filed late Wednesday in Los Angeles federal court.

"The Orange County Coast is a special place with blue water, iconic piers, famous surf breaks, and beautiful beaches," the complaint obtained by City News Service states. "Much of the economic life in this region revolves around the coastal areas and beaches. Thousands of people in Orange County depend on the ocean and beaches for work and play. Beachfront property owners enjoy direct access to blue waters and magnificent coastline, and residents walk the beaches, fish from the shores, swim, surf, kayak and use and enjoy their properties."


"Now contamination by defendants' oil spill has undermined the health of the environment, and the coastal beachfront real property," the plaintiffs contend.

The Samuelians own an oceanfront home in Laguna Beach and are investors in a nearby rental property, the suit indicates.

The lawsuit is the second proposed class-action litigation involving the spill to be filed in federal court. Peter Moses Gutierrez Jr., who operates an Orange County party DJ company, filed the first case against Houston-based Amplify Energy and subsidiary Beta Offshore on Monday, alleging loss of income and possible damage to his health.

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The precise timeline of events surrounding the disaster is currently under investigation, but "it appears that defendants did not promptly act to respond to signs of the pipeline's failure or notify relevant government agencies," attorneys for the Samuelians wrote in the lawsuit.

The alleged delay and "inadequate response runs contrary to defendants' oil spill response plan," according to the document.

"Despite the efforts of volunteers and professional responders, the spill affected numerous marine protected areas as well as beaches from Huntington Beach and south," the suit states. "As the oil spread, so did its terrible consequences. Fish, birds, and marine mammals died after being covered in oil or exposed to the oil's toxic compounds. Tar balls and oil sheen from defendants' oil spill fouled beaches far to the south of Huntington Beach."

The plaintiffs contend that Amplify Energy did not properly maintain its pipeline, leaving it "susceptible to corrosion and rupture." Also, the company was not properly prepared and did not act quickly when an alarm first indicated a problem, the suit alleges.

"Regular maintenance of pipelines is a crucial step that owners of pipelines must take in order to avoid exactly the disaster that occurred with the pipeline," attorneys wrote.

Amplify Energy's CEO Martyn Willsher said the company was unaware of any release of oil into the ocean until about 8 a.m. Saturday, and he said on Wednesday the firm responded and reported the incident immediately.

The U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration's Office of Pipeline Safety issued a corrective action order Tuesday, saying the company received a pressure-drop alarm at 2:30 a.m., but the pipeline carrying crude oil was not shut down until about 6 a.m. Saturday.

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