Sunday, July 22 , 2018, 5:35 am | Fair 66º

 
 
 
 

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Santa Barbara County Officials Laud Proposed Oil Rules But Want More

Plains All American doles out first payment to Santa Barbara for recent spill

New federal rules proposed to improve the inspection and maintenance of pipelines like the one that failed this spring near Refugio State Beach could help, but Santa Barbara County elected officials aren’t sure they go far enough.

That’s another reason Assemblyman Das Williams and Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson still eagerly await word on whether California Governor Jerry Brown will sign into law any of their three combined bills on the subject.

In a nutshell, new U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) regulations call for all hazardous-liquid pipelines to have a system for detecting leaks and for more regular inspections in general, especially after major weather events or natural disasters.

So-called “high-risk pipelines” would also have stricter, timelier repair guidelines.

The new rules are too little too late for county residents, who on May 19 saw as many as 142,800 gallons of crude oil flow down the hill near Refugio State Beach and into the Pacific Ocean.

Plains All American Pipeline, the Texas oil company responsible for the spill, reportedly let parts of the ruptured Line 901 wear away to 1/16-inch thick. The company also has been criticized for failing to install an automatic shut-off valve like other area operations.

As the rules rolled out this month, Plains wrote the county a check for $386,501 — the first of many claims payments to come.

That money will go toward the increase in public services for the month of September, and the county could submit subsequent claims for further removal costs, loss of government revenue and more, said Paul Clementi, a fiscal and policy analyst for the county CEO office.

Plains representatives declined to comment on the claim or new regulations that would require operators to annually evaluate protective measures in areas where failures have the highest potential for human or environmental damage.

PHMSA officials said the regulations would “significantly” change the way operators manage risk for nearly 200,000 miles of hazardous liquid pipelines in the U.S.

County planning officials said they were still reading and analyzing PHMSA’s proposed rules this week to determine what impacts they might have locally.

Congresswoman Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, called the regulations “long overdue,” and said she looked forward to reviewing the details.

“It is clear to me, however, that we still have a long way to go to not only improve the policy but the process,” she said in a statement. “I remain frustrated by how long it has taken PHMSA to roll out these basic safety improvements, and will continue working with my colleagues and PHMSA to ensure federal pipeline safety regulations are as strong as possible.”

Williams echoed aggravation over a rule-making process that took more than four years.

His AB 864 would require intrastate pipelines in environmentally sensitive areas along to coast to use the best achievable technology to reduce the amount of oil released during a spill to protect state waters and wildlife.

“I will be submitting comments to PHMSA during their public comment period asking for these rules to be strengthened,” Williams said. “My hope is that Plains All American will do the right thing and follow the stronger state standards in order to prevent another spill.”

Two bills proposed by Jackson — SB 295 and SB 414 — would require annual oil pipeline inspections by the State Fire Marshall (previously done every two or more years) and increase response time and effectiveness, respectively.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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