Law­mak­ers seek oil spill an­swers

Four law­mak­ers write let­ter ask­ing op­er­at­ing com­pany for clues as to what caused Santa Bar­bara pipe to break.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Javier Pan­zar javier.pan­zar@la­times.com

In a let­ter, mem­bers of Congress ques­tion the safety record of a pipe­line com­pany in the Santa Bar­bara spill.

A group of U.S. law­mak­ers is ques­tion­ing the safety record of the pipe­line com­pany re­spon­si­ble for last month’s oil spill along the Santa Bar­bara coast.

In a let­ter Fri­day to Plains All Amer­i­can Pipe­line Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Greg Arm­strong, Sens. Bar­bara Boxer (D-Calif.), Dianne Fe­in­stein (D-Calif.) and Ed­ward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Lois Capps (D-Santa Bar­bara) asked the com­pany to pro­vide de­tails about its spill re­sponse plan and pre­vi­ous pipe in­spec­tion re­ports.

“Given the Refu­gio State Beach in­ci­dent, as well as Plains Pipe­line hav­ing com­mit­ted over one hun­dred safety vi­o­la­tions in the past decade and hav­ing to spend mil­lions in penal­ties for dam­ag­ing the en­vi­ron­ment, we find your prior safety record trou­bling,” the law­mak­ers wrote.

Me­chan­i­cal fail­ures on the com­pany’s net­work have con­trib­uted to more than a dozen spills that have re­leased nearly two mil­lion gal­lons of haz­ardous liq­uid in the U.S. and Canada since 2004, The Times re­ported Fri­day.

Com­pa­nies con­trolled by Plains have also in the last decade re­ported to fed­eral reg­u­la­tors 229 less-se­ri­ous safety and main­te­nance in­ci­dents con­cern­ing pipe­lines.

A Plains spokesman said the com­pany had re­ceived the let­ter and would re­spond to the law­mak­ers’ ques­tions.

In the let­ter, the law­mak­ers ex­pressed con­cern about pre­lim­i­nary find­ings by fed­eral reg­u­la­tors that showed the failed pipe­line had ex­ten­sive cor­ro­sion. They were also con­cerned that fed­eral reg­u­la­tors found in­con­sis­tent in­spec­tion re­ports from Plains.

The sec­tion of pipe that broke had worn down to 1⁄16 of an inch, and in­ves­ti­ga­tors found a 6-inch crack along the bot­tom of the pipe, ac­cord­ing to pre­lim­i­nary find­ings from the fed­eral Pipe- line and Haz­ardous Ma­te­ri­als Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

At the lo­ca­tion of the crack, about 82% of the pipe’s wall had worn away, com­pared with its orig­i­nal thick­ness when it was con­structed be­tween 1987 and 1990, the law­mak­ers’ let­ter said.

The law­mak­ers asked the com­pany to ex­plain why that level of cor­ro­sion was greater than what a Plains in­ter­nal in­spec­tion of the pipe iden­ti­fied two weeks be­fore the rup­ture. The com­pany’s in­spec­tion in­di­cated about 45% of the pipe wall had de­graded. Plains of­fi­cials said they did not re­ceive those re­sults un­til days af­ter the pipe broke.

Those in­con­sis­ten­cies “raise ques­tions about the safety of other pipe­lines” op­er­ated by Plains, the law­mak­ers said.

From 45% to 74% of the pipe wall’s orig­i­nal thick­ness had been stripped away by cor­ro­sion at other lo­ca­tions along the pipe as well, reg­u­la­tors said.

Reg­u­la­tors have or­dered Plains to ex­am­ine a dif­fer- ent, longer pipe­line con­nected to the failed one. The longer pipe­line had shown nu­mer­ous signs of cor­ro­sion dur­ing three in­ter­nal in­spec­tions in 2013 and 2014.

When the pipe­line in Santa Bar­bara County broke, about 21,000 gal­lons of crude oil spilled down a culvert and into the Pa­cific near Refu­gio State Beach.

As of Fri­day, 123 dead birds and 65 dead marine mam­mals had been re­cov­ered from the spill area.

Mel Mel­con Los An­ge­les Times

FED­ERAL REG­U­LA­TORS found in­con­sis­ten­cies in in­spec­tion re­ports by Plains. About 21,000 gal­lons of oil spilled into the Pa­cific near Refu­gio State Beach when one of its pipe­line broke, spark­ing a mas­sive cleanup.

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