Energy & Environment

Feds fault pipeline company in California oil spill

Federal investigators are faulting the pipeline owner in last year’s rupture on California’s coast that sent 500 barrels of oil into the Pacific Ocean.

Officials with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) said Plains All American Pipeline Co. did not properly prevent corrosion on its Santa Barbara County pipeline, nor did it do enough to quickly detect spills such as the one that happened a year ago.

{mosads}It’s the most comprehensive report yet on the spill, which sent oil into the ocean and onto beaches as far away as Los Angeles, killed hundreds of animals and closed beaches for weeks.

“PHMSA’s findings indicate that the proximate or direct cause of the Line 901 failure was external corrosion that thinned the pipe wall to a level where it ruptured suddenly and released heavy crude oil,” the agency said in its Thursday report.

Numerous factors contributed to the incident, like insufficient monitoring for corrosion and for leaks, as well as a spill response plan that did not take note of the culvert that brought the oil directly to the nearby beach.

The report came two days after state prosecutors filed criminal charges against Plains and an employee. Plains has apologized for the spill, but it believes criminal charges are unnecessary.

PHMSA said its report will serve as the basis for potential further action against the company.

Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.), who represents the area where the spill happened, welcomed the report, and said it shows the need to change how the government oversees pipeline infrastructure.

“In the year since the spill we have made significant progress toward strengthening our nation’s pipeline safety standards, including efforts in Congress to pass a critical update to federal pipeline safety standards,” she said. “The release of today’s report marks the next step in determining what actually happened so that we can fully understand what caused the failure, hold those responsible accountable for the harm done to the Central Coast community, and apply the lessons learned from the spill in federal safety standards.”

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said it reinforces the need for legislation he backs to let Congress see companies’ complete spill response plans.

“Today’s announcement by PHMSA highlights the importance of ensuring that Congress has access to all information, including un-redacted pipeline spill response plans, to ensure that it can provide oversight in the case of a spill or other emergency,” he said in a statement.

“It’s critical that my provision that would guarantee that this information is fully provided to Congress is passed as part of pipeline reauthorization legislation that is making its way through Congress.”

Tags Ed Markey oil Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration pipelines

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