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Plains All American Pipeline Notified of Likely Violations from California Inspections in 2013, 2014

Federal regulators issued a notice of probable violation to Plains All American Pipeline on Friday, pointing to inadequate recordkeeping and other concerns found during inspections at California facilities in 2013 and 2014.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration oversees crude oil pipelines, including the ruptured Plains Line 901 that leaked tens of thousands of gallons of oil onto Santa Barbara County’s coastline on May 19.

During inspections, the agency discovered inadequate documentation for the company’s emergency response training and its integrity management plan in “high consequence areas,” which includes the Gaviota coast where the ruptured pipe was discovered to be badly corroded.

Enforcement action from the result of the Santa Barbara County leak investigation will be issued later, according to Chris Hoidal, PHMSA’s western region director.

(Scroll down to read the entire PHMSA notice of probable violation and proposed compliance order.)

For high consequence areas, operators are required to have a plan to prevent and mitigate consequences of a pipeline failure, including a risk analysis.

According to PHMSA, Plains didn’t adequately document what measures it considered, or its justification for not using those measures.

Plains didn’t have adequate records for its annual emergency response training review either, or records to show that supervisors were keeping up to date with emergency response procedures, the review found.

“Plains’ supervisors were present at emergency response training drills; However, there were no records to show or evaluate individual supervisor knowledge in order to verify that they each were knowledgeable about the procedure for which they were responsible,” according to the PHMSA order.

Other inadequate recordkeeping issues involve pressure tests in Kern County Pentland Station breakout tanks, and not documenting its preventive evaluations for some Kern County sections of pipeline before 2013, which caused PHMSA to issue a compliance order.

PHMSA can levy $200,000-per-day-per-violation civil penalties, but decided not to for this case.

The agency highlighted other areas of safety concern, including the fact that Plains officials had unclear procedures for how to respond when in-line inspection tools found anomalies.

“Plains is reviewing PHMSA’s letter, sent yesterday, Sept. 11, regarding their 2013 field visit to our facilities in Bakersfield,” Plains All American Pipeline communications manager Meredith Matthews said in a statement.

“We will work with PHMSA to resolve the concerns noted in their letter. We appreciate and value the effort PHMSA takes to inspect our facilities and procedures, as they are important elements of our industry’s continuous improvement.”

When the ruptured Santa Barbara County pipeline was found badly corroded to an estimated 1/16-inch thickness, it was far more than in-line inspections had indicated, according to a PHMSA report.

The leak initially was estimated with a worst-case scenario of 101,000 gallons for the 24-inch pipeline, but Plains updated its calculations in August and said the number could be as high as 142,800 gallons of crude oil.

PHMSA is still investigating the oil leak and Plains will be on the hook for all the clean-up costs.

The state Attorney General’s Office could file criminal charges in the case and Plains faces several civil lawsuits as well, with the City of Santa Barbara suing for damages and local fishermen suing over the fisheries closure in the Santa Barbara Channel.

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.

PHMSA Notice of Probable Violation and Proposed Compliance Order for Plains All American Pipeline

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