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Environmental Defense Center Urges Plains to Make Change in Wake of Oil Spill

The Environmental Defense Center sent a letter on behalf of 28 environmental organizations to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, urging the agency to implement increased safety requirements prior to restart of the pipeline responsible for the May 19, 2015 Plains All American Pipeline Oil Spill off the Santa Barbara coastline near Refugio State Beach. 

EDC called on PHMSA to require Plains, the operator of the faulty Line 901 and its connecting Line 903, to: (1) require annual inspections of the lines with third party oversight; (2) implement best achievable technologies such as coupling leak detection technology with automatic shutoff systems and (3) require assurance that Plains will comply with several oil spill response and emergency plans.

EDC claims the devastating environmental impacts of the Plains Oil Spill could have been avoided had these safety requirements been in place.

The letter highlights that the impacts of the spill have become even clearer following the agency’s former issuance of a Corrective Action Order to Plains June 3, 2015, including the greatly increased estimate of the amount of oil released, the expanded distance the oil traveled and the large number of animals killed or harmed. 

EDC calls on PHMSA, as the agency responsible for ensuring pipelines are operated in a safe manner,  to ensure that these pipelines are as secure as possible prior to restart of their operation, and that they are maintained and operated in a manner that will make another devastating oil spill less likely. 

“Especially given the track record of Plains, it is imperative that PHMSA take its responsibility to ensure pipeline safety seriously, in order to protect our communities, natural resources and our precious coastal environment,” said Nicole Di Camillo, staff attorney at the Environmental Defense Center. 

She added, “the measures called for by these environmental groups are eminently reasonable, are already being implemented on many intrastate pipelines in California and can make a real difference in preventing spills and mitigating the impacts of any spills that may occur in the future.”

EDC’s letter urges PHMSA to require annual inspections of the pipelines, citing that less frequent inspections were obviously insufficient to identify the massive corrosion and metal loss that led to the Plains Oil Spill. 

The letter also urges PHMSA to require coupling of automatic shutoff systems with advanced leak detection technology, as already implemented in intrastate pipelines regulated by Santa Barbara County, and which would avoid delays in shutdown, such as that which occurred on Line 901 due to the need for operator-initiated shutdown of the line. 

The letter finally urges that Plains should be required to operate in a manner consistent with the guidance set forth in the County of Santa Barbara and California Coastal Commission’s oil spill response and emergency plans, and that it demonstrate its ability to do so prior to restart of the pipelines through a comprehensive practice drill.

“We believe that the devastating impacts of the Plains Oil Spill could have been avoided or greatly reduced had the pipeline been operated with up-to-date technology, such as automatic shutdown systems, and had it been inspected more frequently,” stated Linda Krop, chief counsel of the Environmental Defense Center. “It is crucial that our coast, and the wildlife, recreation and businesses it supports, be protected from further harm.”

Read the group’s letter to PHMSA here.

— Betsy Weber represents the Environmental Defense Center.


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