Tuesday, May 22 , 2018, 10:53 pm | Fair 57º


Local News

Pipeline Company Ordered to Continue Cleanup from Refugio Oil Spill

Plains All American Pipeline has until June 6 to submit a formal plan to the Coast Guard and EPA

Environmental Protection Agency on-scene incident commander Michelle Rogow, left, and Coast Guard Capt. Jennifer Williams have been leading the response effort after the oil spill near Refugio State Beach, about 10 miles west of the City of Goleta.
Environmental Protection Agency on-scene incident commander Michelle Rogow, left, and Coast Guard Capt. Jennifer Williams have been leading the response effort after the oil spill near Refugio State Beach, about 10 miles west of the City of Goleta. (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

The pipeline company responsible for the oil spill near Refugio State Beach was formally ordered to continue clean-up work inland near the ruptured pipe, the shoreline and the ocean by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Coast Guard, which are co-leading the response effort on the Gaviota Coast.

The Clean Water Act order was issued to Plains All American Pipeline, which operates the ruptured pipeline in southern Santa Barbara County, and requires the company to continue extensive clean-up operations and make a work plan for future response.

It has penalties for noncompliance, but Plains has been cooperating with the response effort and complying with all demands, officials said Wednesday.

Specifically, Plains has to make a plan by June 6 for future response activities, including sampling and analyzing air, water, rocks and soil in the spill area; ensure no more oil is released into the environment; and clean up all remaining oil and contamination at the pipeline break site and oil-impacted areas, according to a statement by the Coast Guard and EPA.

Plains is also responsible for clean-up response costs and has an active claims line for damages at 866.753.3619.

This Clean Water Act order relates to the response effort, EPA federal on scene incident coordinator Michelle Rogow said, while a previous order from the company’s federal regulating agency makes the company shut down the pipe and get approval before repairing and restarting operations on the line.   

Plains was ordered Friday to shut down the pipeline, Line 901, by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which regulates pipelines.

PHMSA's corrected action order requires Plains to empty and purge the pipe, review its records and its emergency response plan, and commission a "root cause failure analysis."

The company will also have to submit a work plan and restart plan before recommencing operations again.

Line 901 carried oil from Las Flores Canyon to the company's Gaviota Pump Station, and the shutdown includes operations at ExxonMobil and Venoco Inc., which both use the pipeline to carry oil north from its offshore oil and gas production platforms. 

EPA Regional Administrator Jared Blumenfeld noted that the Clean Water Act was written and the EPA was formed in 1970, the year after the devastating 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill.

It’s “unbelievable” that the same area would be impacted by another crude oil spill, he said Wednesday.

Globs of oil have shown up in recent days on Leadbetter Beach, above, and other beaches in the Santa Barbara area. Officials are trying to determine their connection to the Refugio spill. (Addison Proctor photo)

PHMSA and the EPA are investigating the cause of the pipeline failure and are supervising the excavation and removal of the ruptured section of pipe.

Uncovering the pipe started Tuesday and once it’s done, the section of pipeline will be removed, wrapped, and sent to a PHMSA-approved lab for testing, Plains officials said Wednesday.

Plains operations director Rick McMichael confirmed the uncovered portion of pipe is the area of effected pipe that caused the release, but Plains officials said the investigation prohibits anyone from talking about what was seen once that section of 24-inch pipe was uncovered.

Federal, state and local agencies are responding to the oil spill, which was reported May 19 and has resulted in oiled shoreline, dead wildlife and closed beaches.

There are daily “overflights” of the area by helicopter so the unified command can plan its tactics for the day, in addition to shoreline assessment teams working on the ground.

In response to the spill, 24.6 miles of shoreline has been surveyed and 4.6 miles have been heavily impacted, Coast Guard Capt. Jennifer Williams said.

Six miles have been “moderately impacted,” another 8.9 miles have been lightly impacted, and another 4.1 miles have been very lightly impacted or not impacted by the spill at all, she said.

Nearly all the visible sheen is removed from the ocean surface in the area of the spill and teams are actively resurveying areas to look for pipeline oil that could be underground or underwater, McMichael said.

Dive teams are looking for oil in the kelp beds near Refugio State Beach and have found pea-sized blobs about 150 yards offshore, he said.

Refugio and El Capitan state beaches have been closed due to the oil spill, and the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department has been involved in air and water quality monitoring to see if more beaches need to be closed.

As of Wednesday night, no more were closed, but clean-up crews have been deployed at beaches as far east as Goleta Beach County Park and Arroyo Burro Beach, near Santa Barbara.

Trained volunteers are being mobilized for some of these clean-ups. To register to get trained and help, visit the CalSpillWatch website or 1.800.228.4544. 

There have been protective booms placed at some beaches and waterways, including the Arroyo Burro Creek and Goleta Slough, to proactively prevent oil from getting into those sensitive areas, the Public Health Department said in a statement Wednesday.

“Any beach conditions indicating a significant public health risk will result in immediate beach closure,” they said.

Some beaches have “trace amounts” of oil and scattered tar balls — some people have reported seeing tar balls along the high tide long in Goleta and Santa Barbara-area beaches — and testing is being done to determine if that oil is related to the spill or natural seeps, the Public Health Department said.

There will be a community open house held for anyone with questions about the oil spill response on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Elks Lodge at 150 N. Kellogg Ave in Goleta.

To submit comments about the oil spill to the county directly, [email protected]

Noozhawk news 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.

The Refugio oil spill command is mapping the shoreline oil observed from assessment teams, with levels ranging from no oil/light oiling (blue and green sections) to moderate and heavy oil (orange and red sections). (Joint Information Center courtesy photo)

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