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Santa Barbara Supervisors Will Weigh In on Proposed Pipeline Safety Rule Changes

County staff recommend sending letter of support to plan tightening regulations for oil and gas pipeline oversight

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors is being asked to weigh in on proposed federal oversight measure for pipelines, a move that comes six months after the Gaviota Coast suffered a crude-oil spill. 

Although the investigation into the spill continues, up to 142,800 gallons of crude oil flowed onto the coastline after a May 19 spill from a pipeline near Refugio State Beach.

The pipeline, operated by Houston-based Plains All-American, did not have an automatic shut-off valve, unlike other local pipelines, as the result of a previous lawsuit against the county. 

Extensive corrosion was found in the ruptured Line 901, which has been ordered out of service since the incident.

The connecting Plains-operated line, which brings processed oil to refineries, has also been shut down since soon after the spill. 

On Tuesday, supervisors will consider sending a letter supporting changes from the federal oversight agency and may be asking for additional measure, such as the safety valves.

If approved, the letter will be sent to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which sent a notice in October that proposed changes were underway to policies around hazardous liquid pipeline safety regulations.

The county’s planning and development and energy and minerals division staff have reviewed the changes, approving of most and suggesting that some don’t go far enough.

The letter’s comments “are intended to strengthen the proposed regulations and ensure greater environmental protection,” county staff wrote.

A proposed change would require certain pipelines to be assessed every 10 years. 

The county letter took issue with this, stating that the timeline should have inspections every three to five years, because “because internal and external pipeline corrosion rates are highly dependent upon the chemical characteristics of the transported liquid and the location of the pipeline.”

Even though the coastal Plains All-American Pipeline Line 901 was on a three-year inspection interval, “in-line inspections still failed to identify a fatal anomaly in the pipeline,” the letter states. 

The regulations also called for new hazardous liquid lines to be designed to include leak detection systems, with a 20-year grace period, but staff recommend that the 20-year timeline is reduced to five years. 

Staff also suggested that pipeline regulations should require emergency flow restricting devices to prevent spills. 

“If the Plains All American Pipeline system had been equipped with an automatic shutdown system, the substantial environmental damage caused by the May 2015 Plains All American Pipeline spill could have been minimized,” the letter states.

Other proposed changes by PHMSA would expand reporting requirements to all reporting requirements to all hazardous liquid gathering pipelines, whether onshore, offshore or currently unregulated.  This change would require safety and condition reports to be submitted on an annual basis.  

Another change would require inspections of pipelines in areas affected by extreme weather, natural disasters or similar events would have to be done within 72 hours. 

The Board of Supervisors will review the proposed changes during the 9 a.m. Tuesday meeting and decide whether to send a letter to PHMSA.

The meeting will be held in the Santa Barbara County Administration Building Board Hearing Room, Fourth Floor, 105 East Anapamu Street in Santa Barbara.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper 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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