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Plains Ordered to Install Safety Valves, Pressure Sensors in Pipeline That Caused Refugio Oil Spill

Federal regulators issued more requirements for Plains All American Pipeline to complete before it can restart the crude-oil pipelines shut down since they ruptured and caused the Refugio Oil Spill in southern Santa Barbara County.

This corrective order amendment mandates that Plains “implement advanced leak detection capabilities, install additional safety valves and pressure sensors, develop a long-term plan for corrosion prevention, and update its facility response plan for both pipelines before they are allowed to restart,” said officials from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration Thursday.  

PHMSA ordered Plains to install additional safety valves and pressure sensors, and implement emergency shutdown programming along with staff training for it.

Plains is also required to submit a revised facility response plan to include high-population areas, lessons learned from the failure, additional staff training, and culverts.

The existing spill response plan didn’t mention the critical culvert under Highway 101 that allowed the tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil to flow from the pipeline rupture to the ocean near Refugio State Beach.

An estimated 123,228 gallons of crude oil were spilled onto the hillside, shoreline, beaches and Pacific Ocean on May 19, 2015.

While the PHMSA order requires more safety equipment and response planning, the agency’s investigation of Plains found that the company didn’t follow the plans it had in place, and failed to detect and respond to the warning signs its equipment was giving, including reduced pressure.

The pipeline kept operating for 35 minutes after the rupture and the company — along with one employee — is being criminally charged for its failure to notify federal authorities within an hour of discovering the spill.

Plains also failed to detect and prevent the external corrosion that caused the spill, PHMSA concluded in its investigation.

The corrective order amendment issued Thursday requires Plains to take some action on corrosion prevention, but gives the company options, including replacing all buried and insulated pipe for the ruptured Line 901, repairing or re-coating portions of Line 901 pipe, and submitting a long-term monitoring plan to address ineffective corrosion prevention for insulated pipeline.

“Plains may address the inadequate corrosion prevention through any method approved by the director,” including those options, according to PHMSA.

Before the lines start operating again, Plains has to address the issues in the corrective order and submit a restart plan to PHMSA.

Plains has been charged with four felony charges and 42 misdemeanors for discharging a pollutant into state waters, knowingly making a false or misleading oil spill report to the California Office of Emergency Services, failing to notify the National Response Center within one hour after confirmation of a pipeline release of oil, and violating Fish and Game code by taking protected and migratory birds, and other animals (which died as a result of the spill).

Plains was previously ordered to shut down and purge oil out of the ruptured line along the Gaviota Coast and the connecting pipe that transports oil and gas north to Kern County.

Offshore oil platforms have stopped operating since the transportation pipelines shut down, and the ExxonMobil Las Flores Canyon processing facility — threatened by the Sherpa Fire burning along the Gaviota Coast — has been mostly idle since then as well. 

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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