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Tuesday, March 19 , 2019, 1:53 am | Fair 53º


Environmental Review Underway for Plains Oil Pipeline Replacement Project

Public comments on the scope of the environmental impact report will be accepted through mid-March

Public meeting in Santa Barbara Click to view larger
Santa Barbara County project planner Kathryn Lehr talks about the proposed Plains All American Pipeline replacement project at an environmental review scoping hearing Wednesday night.  (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

Santa Barbara County planners expect to release a draft environmental impact report in the fall for the Plains All American Pipeline proposal to replace its two local crude oil pipelines, and solicited comments at a public meeting Wednesday on the scope of the EIR.

The new 123.4-mile pipeline would replace Line 901, which ruptured and caused the May 2015 Refugio oil spill on the Gaviota coast, and connecting Line 903, which is routed through Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Kern counties, including federal lands.

These pipelines transported oil from southern Santa Barbara County offshore oil platforms to refineries in Kern County.

Both of them have been shut down since the oil spill, and the company announced in 2017 that it had applied for a replacement project instead of repairing and restarting the existing pipelines.

The project application is being reviewed under the California Environmental Quality Act, with Santa Barbara County as the lead agency, and the National Environmental Policy Act, with the Bureau of Land Management as the lead agency for affected federal lands.

County project planner Kathryn Lehr noted Wednesday that Plains would not need discretionary approval from the county to restart operations on its existing pipelines.

Two weeks ago, the county Board of Supervisors approved a $1.1 million contract with Ecology & Environment, Inc. and MRS Environmental to prepare the EIR.

Pipeline map Click to view larger
A Santa Barbara County map shows the proposed route of a replacement Plains All American crude oil pipeline.  (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

Lehr said a draft of the document is expected this fall, and the project will be reviewed by the county Planning Commission in winter 2020.

She outlined the basics of the project at Wednesday’s meeting, and planning staff heard comments from a few dozen members of the public.

The replacement pipelines are planned to take mostly the same route as the existing pipelines, but divert around Buellton, she said.

The Plains project also aims to expand the company's Sisquoc Pump Station and build a new pump station in the Cuyama Valley, in San Luis Obispo County.

The new Line 901R would run from Las Flores Canyon to Sisquoc, where some oil is sent to the Phillips 66 Santa Maria Refinery in Nipomo. Line 903R would run from Sisquoc to refineries in Pentland, in Kern County, according to Plains.

Lehr said the new pipelines would have an automatic shut-off system for pumps, if pipeline pressure falls below certain thresholds, and 49 control valves.

Comments for Wednesday’s EIR scoping hearing were not supposed to address the merits of the project, Lehr said, but many people criticized the proposal as a whole, and urged the county to study a no-project alternative in the EIR.

Meeting room Click to view larger
More than 50 people attended Wednesday night’s environmental impact report scoping hearing in Santa Barbara.  (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

“No one builds a pipeline to spill but spills always happen,” Goleta resident Steve Nelson said. “Santa Barbara knows it better than most people in the world.”

Attorney Maggie Hall of the Environmental Defense Center asked the county to study the alternative of Plains repairing and restarting its existing pipeline, as well as the impacts of a replacement pipeline being constructed and operated.

Buellton Union School District Superintendent Randal Haggard spoke against the project, saying the revised route is just west of the city, and there could be impacts to vulnerable populations, including children.

Many speakers asked for the environmental review to consider the impacts of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, not just from the pipeline operations, but consumers of the processed crude oil and gas.

Another scoping hearing is planned for 6 p.m. Thursday at the South County Regional Center in Arroyo Grande, at 800 W. Branch St., and the comment period for this phase ends in mid-March.

Comments about areas to be analyzed in the environmental impact report also can be emailed to Lehr at [email protected], or mailed to her at the county Planning & Development Department, 123 E. Anapamu St., Santa Barbara 93101.

Federal regulators determined that Plains failed to detect the Refugio Oil Spill and the corrosion that caused it.

Plains was convicted in Santa Barbara Superior Court of several spill-related criminal charges and is scheduled to be sentenced in April, which will likely result in large fines to the company.

The company said in a statement Wednesday that it is committed to restoring crude oil transportation pipeline operations between Santa Barbara and Kern counties.

“We have the option to restart the existing pipeline, but we believe the best option for the region and our company is to replace the line with a new line that will be designed and built with additional safety features to meet today’s more stringent regulatory requirements for newly constructed pipelines,” said Steve Greig, Plains director of government affairs, in a statement.

Most offshore oil production in southern Santa Barbara County has been halted since the pipelines were shut down.

Venoco, which owned Platform Holly, declared bankruptcy and ceased operations, and Freeport-McMoRan may stop operating its three platforms in the Point Arguello Unit.

ExxonMobil owns three platforms in the Santa Barbara Channel that used the Plains pipelines, and has applied to truck oil until a pipeline is again available to transport crude oil.

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.

Oil facility map Click to view larger
A county map shows oil and gas facilities including, in yellow, ones under abandonment.  (Santa Barbara County photo)

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