Globules of decades-old bunker oil washed up on Morro Rock Beach and the southern end of Morro Strand State Beach Saturday, after a contractor working on an offshore pipeline accidentally released “a solid ball of oil” trapped inside the pipe and it broke up in whitecap waves.
The company that owns the defunct pipelines, Dynegy, recently contracted with Maritime Logistics and its work boat M/V Surveyor to remove the submarine portion of the pipelines, which haven’t been in use since the mid-90s.
In an email, Dynegy spokesperson Meredith Moore said “The contractor was in the process of capping off the end of the pipe when the oil escaped. We had protective measures and equipment in place but the rough seas complicated the situation and allowed for the release.”
The National Weather Service reports winds were blowing 10 to 22 mph in that area of Morro Bay on Saturday afternoon.
According to the Morro Bay Harbor Patrol, the spill of “less than ten gallons” was reported around 1:30 p.m. At 3 p.m., workers were still on the beach using shovels to scoop up beads of oil on the sand. A tractor took away a front-end bucket’s worth of sand for cleaning.
Dynegy says it notified “all relevant agencies” and “containment booming was deployed,” to clean up what Moore said was approximately five gallons. Initially the company reported about 25 gallons had spilled but revised the amount based on what the diver doing the pipeline work underwater had reported.
The pipelines - parallel pipes sized 16 and 24 inches - connected offshore oil tankers to the Morro Bay Power Plant and were used to load bunker oil into the plant before it was converted to natural gas. According to the City of Morro Bay, the pipelines have been “kept in caretaker status since the plant stopped using oil for fuel” in 1995.
The pipelines run from the plant, under the dunes near Morro Rock Beach and into the ocean a quarter mile north of Morro Rock, as described in a release about the current pipeline work on the city’s website.