Seek­ing an­swers on oil spill

Three U.S. sen­a­tors ques­tion a Texas firm’s ‘in­suf­fi­cient’ re­sponse to a pipe­line fail­ure in Santa Bar­bara County.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Javier Pan­zar and Tony Bar­boza

SANTA BAR­BARA — Three U.S. sen­a­tors are rais­ing con­cerns about a Texasbased com­pany’s “in­suf­fi­cient” re­sponse to a pipe­line fail­ure that re­leased thou­sands of gal­lons of crude into the ocean and fouled the Santa Bar­bara County coast­line.

In a let­ter to the Pipe­line and Haz­ardous Ma­te­ri­als Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion last week, Sens. Bar­bara Boxer (D-Calif.), Dianne Fe­in­stein (D-Calif.) and Ed­ward J. Markey (D-Mass.) ques­tioned whether Plains All Amer­i­can Pipe­line acted quickly enough in de­tect­ing and re­port­ing the May 19 spill from its oil line near Refu­gio State Beach.

“We need an­swers about why this hap­pened, why the re­sponse was in­suf­fi­cient and what can be done to pre­vent an­other tragic spill like this from hap­pen­ing in the fu­ture,” the sen­a­tors wrote.

Plains Pipe­line em- ploy­ees de­tected “anom­alies” in the 11-mile pipe­line at 11:30 a.m., and con­firmed the fail­ure on-site at 1:30 p.m. They re­ported the spill to the Na­tional Re­sponse Cen­ter just be­fore 3 p.m., ac­cord­ing to the let­ter.

“Based on this timeline, we are con­cerned that Plains Pipe­line may not have de­tected this spill or re­ported it to fed­eral of­fi­cials as quickly as pos­si­ble, and that th­ese de­lays could have ex­ac­er­bated the ex­tent of the dam­age to the en­vi­ron­ment,” the sen­a­tors wrote. They asked why it took two hours for Plains Pipe­line to vis­ually con­firm the ex­is­tence of a re­lease of oil.

The let­ter also ex­pressed con­cern that the rup­tured pipe­line lacked an au­to­matic shut-off valve that could have de­tected a loss in pres­sure and de­creased the amount of oil re­leased.

Among other re­quests, the sen­a­tors asked for de­tailed in­for­ma­tion on the com­pany’s oil spill re­sponse plans, the timeline of its re­sponse and the line’s in­spec­tion his­tory. They also want to know whether fed­eral reg­u­la­tors have legal author­ity to re­quire the com­pany to in­stall au­to­matic or re­mote shut-off valves on

the line as it is re­paired.

The com­pany de­fended its re­sponse to the spill in a state­ment pro­vided to The Times on Thurs­day evening.

“In a real event, no one is fully sat­is­fied with the speed of re­sponse,” said Mered­ith Matthews, a Plains Pipe­line spokes­woman. “Upon con­firm­ing the re­lease, we im­me­di­ately ac­ti­vated our emer­gency re­sponse plan and mar­shaled crit­i­cal re­sources to the scene, scal­ing up those re­sources quickly as we bet­ter un­der­stood the cleanup re­quire­ments.”

The com­pany is con­duct­ing an in­ter­nal re­view of its re­sponse, Matthews said.

A timeline pro­vided by Plains Pipe­line of­fi­cials the day af­ter the rup­ture in­di­cated that the pipe­line had been experiencing prob­lems through­out the morn­ing of May 19.

Me­chan­i­cal prob­lems at the Las Flores pump­ing sta­tion caused the pipe­line to shut down at 10:45 a.m., Rick McMichael, the com­pany’s direc­tor of pipe­line op­er­a­tions, told re­porters last week. The pumps were restarted at 10:55 a.m, but a dif­fer­ent pump along the line went down at 11:15 a.m., he said.

An op­er­a­tor at a con­trol cen­ter in Mid­land, Texas, shut down the pipe­line again at 11:30 a.m. af­ter de­tect­ing a drop in pres­sure, McMichael said. An “odor” was re­ported to the com­pany at 12:30 p.m. and a com­pany of­fi­cial con­firmed the leak at 1:30 p.m.

At a news con­fer­ence Thurs­day, held be­fore the law­mak­ers’ let­ter was re­leased, Plains Pipe­line of­fi­cials apol­o­gized for the spill.

“We will not leave un­til the job is com­pleted,” said Pa­trick Hod­gins, se­nior direc­tor of safety and se­cu­rity with the com­pany.

The law­mak­ers’ let­ter came as fed­eral reg­u­la­tors an­nounced that Plains Pipe­line em­ploy­ees had re­moved the failed sec­tion of pipe­line for testing fol­low­ing an ex­ca­va­tion that took sev­eral days. The sec­tion of pipe — about 50 feet in length, ac­cord­ing to the com­pany — will be taken to an in­de­pen­dent met­al­lur­gi­cal lab­o­ra­tory in Ohio.

The pipe­line re­leased up to 101,000 gal­lons of crude, with an es­ti­mated 21,000 gal­lons of oil f low­ing down­hill from the spill site through a culvert, un­der the 101 Free­way and into the Pa­cific.

The pipe­line, known as Line 901, trans­ports crude oil from Las Flores to Gaviota and then to re­finer­ies through­out South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. It re­mains shut down while fed­eral pipe­line reg­u­la­tors in­ves­ti­gate the cause of the fail­ure, both on-site and at the com­pany’s con­trol room in Texas.

The spill has closed sev­eral miles of beaches on the Gaviota Coast while cleanup work­ers try to re­move oil from the rocks, sand and the ocean sur­face. Of­fi­cials said 18 oil-stricken birds and 10 marine mam­mals have died as a re­sult of the spill.

The day af­ter the oil spill Plains Pipe­line of­fi­cials said about 130 per­son­nel were work­ing on the re­sponse. By Thurs­day, nearly 1,200 work­ers were on scene, though not all were in­volved in the cleanup ef­fort.

Refu­gio and El Cap­i­tan State Beaches will re­main closed un­til at least June 18, said Eric Hjel­strom, state parks su­per­in­ten­dent for the Santa Bar­bara area.

“We have no way of know­ing ex­actly when this cleanup will end,” Hjel­strom said.

Brian van der Brug Los An­ge­les Times

IT TOOK TWO HOURS for Plains Pipe­line to vis­ually con­firm the ex­is­tence of a re­lease of oil. Above, work­ers pile bags of oil-soaked sand at Refu­gio State Beach.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.