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PHMSA Says Plains Hasn’t Yet Filed a Restart Plan for Ruptured Santa Barbara County Pipeline

The coastal clean-up is done and the monitoring has ended, but the aftermath of the Refugio Oil Spill lingers two years after the crude oil pipeline rupture in southern Santa Barbara County.

Plains All American Pipeline’s failed pipeline, Line 901, transported oil produced from offshore oil platforms and was shut down and purged after the May 19, 2015, spill.

Federal regulators from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued corrective action orders, and on Tuesday told the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors the agency has not yet received a restart plan from Plains.

PHMSA community liaison Dave Mulligan told the county that a remedial work plan is in progress, and crews are still investigating the status and condition of steel in the ground.  

There are several options for the future of the pipeline, and it’s not clear which one the company will pursue, Mulligan said: abandon the lines, replace portions of the buried and insulated pipeline, or make the necessary repairs and apply for a special permit through PHMSA.

“Right now all the options are on the table,” he said.  

PHMSA has issued corrective action orders and Plains has to submit a restart plan that goes beyond plans to turn on pumps. It also has to “show us that they have increased the level of safety and go above and beyond the minimum pipeline safety regulations,” Mulligan said.

“We have not been approached by Plains saying, hey, we want to start the pipeline anytime soon.”

Required repairs include changes to the pipeline’s corrosion-prevention technology, since external corrosion was determined to be the cause of the rupture.

Mulligan also talked about the plans to switch Line 901 from federal to state regulatory oversight.

Line 901 was classified as an interstate pipeline even though it never left California, and Plains filed documents last year with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to make it an intrastate pipeline – bringing it under state oversight.

Mulligan said PHMSA and the state have an agreement to turn over regulatory authority when (and if) the pipeline starts operating again, and not before all necessary repairs and changes are made to comply with the additional regulations.

“Once it comes up and running, if it does come back into service, and the level of safety is proven, then we turn over that regulatory authority to the Office of the State Fire Marshal,” he said.

Plains representatives were not present at the Board of Supervisors meeting and did not respond to a request for comment. 

Line 901 runs between Goleta and the Gaviota Pump Station, while connecting Plains-operated Line 903, which was also shut down and purged of crude oil, runs north through Santa Barbara County. One section in Kern County is still operating.

Offshore oil platforms run by ExxonMobil, Freeport-McMoRan and Venoco stopped operating shortly after the oil spill because PHMSA shut down the pipelines that transport crude oil to refineries.

ExxonMobil relocated 200 local employees after the shutdown and Venoco has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

During Tuesday’s meeting, county supervisors also heard from representatives of the U.S. Coast Guard, Office of Spill Prevention and Response, and the county Office of Emergency Management for a status report on post-spill activities.

There wasn’t much new, as organizations said they are updating their contingency plans and working to incorporate local government more into the disaster-response structure.

OEM Director Robert Lewin said Santa Barbara County is the only county that has a MOU with the state to be included in incident command.

Lewin also talked about plans to have more training for affiliated volunteers in Santa Barbara County – including groups such as VOAD – so they can be better utilized during an oil spill response or other emergency.

Criminal charges against the responsible company, Plains All American Pipeline, and the final investigative report announcing external corrosion as the cause of the rupture marked the spill’s first anniversary last year. Plains failed to detect the spill and the corrosion that caused it, PHMSA determined.

Class action lawsuits against the company are also moving forward with the recent class certification for the fishermen and fisheries industry group of plaintiffs.

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli 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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