Wednesday, February 21 , 2018, 2:23 am | A Few Clouds 48º

 
 
 
 

Capps Questions Energy Secretary Moniz on Pipeline Safety

On Tuesday, Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, spoke to U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz about the impacts of the oil spill on the Central Coast and the need for stronger federal pipeline safety regulations.

Secretary Moniz was testifying before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy & Power during a hearing on the need to improve energy infrastructure throughout the United States. This is the first energy hearing held since the May 19 oil spill at Refugio State Beach.

“While the exact causes of the recent Plains All American spill are still being investigated, it is already clear that woefully inadequate federal pipeline safety standards played a significant role,” Capps said. “The mere fact that Plains and other companies have oil spill contingency funds shows that there is no such thing as a safe pipeline. We need to take whatever measures possible to ensure stronger federal pipeline safety oversight.”

Text of her speech, as prepared, is below.

Questions — Sec. Ernest Moniz
6/2/15 Hearing on DOE Quadrennial Energy Review (QER)

Thank your Mr. Chairman for holding this hearing, and thank you Mr. Secretary for your testimony.

This discussion of our nation’s energy infrastructure is very important, and the Administration’s work on the QER is important.

I’m particularly interested in the pipeline safety aspect of it.

Over my years on this committee, I have referenced the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill many times.

That oil spill had tremendous local and national ramifications, giving birth to the modern environmental movement and changing the way our nation viewed oil development.

Sadly, the Santa Barbara community was recently hit with yet another terrible oil spill along the coast.

On May 19, more than 100,000 gallons of crude oil spilled from the ruptured Plains All American Pipeline along the treasured Gaviota Coast just north of Santa Barbara.

The oil quickly flowed under the highway, onto the beach, and into the ocean where the oil slick spread south for miles along the coastline.

While the exact causes of this spill are still being investigated, it is already clear that woefully inadequate federal pipeline safety standards played a significant role.

The Plains All American Pipeline is the only federally regulated pipeline in Santa Barbara County.

It is also the only transmission pipeline in the County that does not have an automatic shutoff valve built into the system.

This is not a coincidence.

Every other comparable oil pipeline in Santa Barbara County has an automatic shutoff valve because the County has required it.

But the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration — or PHMSA — does not make that requirement of pipeline operators.

While an automatic shut off valve would not have prevented the spill, it certainly could have minimized it.

Plains was allowed to squirrel away tens of millions of dollars into a contingency fund for when their pipeline would inevitably fail, yet they weren’t even required to spend a fraction of that amount on installing basic spill prevention technologies.

This defies common sense, and it cannot be allowed to continue.

And this is just one example of lax safety standards.

My constituents are understandably angry; and I share their anger.

Oil and gas development is a dangerous and dirty business ...

The mere fact that Plains and other companies have oil spill contingency funds shows that there is no such thing as a safe pipeline.

Spills happen, and they will continue to happen as long as we depend on fossil fuels for our energy needs.

We obviously cannot end this dependence overnight, but we need to take bigger and bolder actions to achieve the clean energy future that we all know is needed.

Secretary Moniz, I appreciate the President’s and your strong commitment to pursuing renewable energy.

The objectives of the QER are important. We cannot build a clean energy future without preparing for new challenges and modernizing our infrastructure.

But we must also do everything in our power to ensure that this infrastructure is as safe as possible.

Congress has repeatedly directed PHMSA to strengthen its standards, yet PHMSA has done little.

The QER specifically mentions a draft PHMSA rule in development that would help strengthen some of these standards, but PHMSA first began taking comment on this rule nearly 5 years ago and nothing has been published.

And in 2011, Congress enacted legislation explicitly directing PHMSA to issue a rule requiring automatic shutoff valves on new pipelines by January of last year.

Still not even a proposal, let alone a final rule. This is inexcusable.

I know DOE does not have direct control over this agency or rulemaking, but what’s the point in replacing aging pipelines and building new ones if they’re built using ineffective and outdated safety standards?

The pipeline that burst in my district was not even 30 years old; age clearly is not the only factor here.

Question: So Mr. Secretary, what is the administration doing to ensure new pipeline infrastructure is as safe as possible?

Secretary answer: Much more work needs to be done on this, and I look forward to working with you and the chairman to making some real progress on this issue.

— Chris Meagher is a press secretary for Rep. Lois Capps.

 
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