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Environment and Energy

Pipeline remains offline two years after Refugio oil spill

Courtesy of Ashley Spratt/USFWS
Bill Standley, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, inspects a dead bird for signs of oil at San Buenaventura State Beach in Ventura, California on June 12, 2015.

Friday marked the anniversary of the Refugio Oil Spill. On May 19, 2015, a two-foot-diameter underground pipeline named Line 901 ruptured near Santa Barbara County’s Refugio State Beach. By the time the line was shut off, over 100,000 gallons of crude oil spilled over coastal bluffs and into the ocean. It took hundreds of workers more than two months to clean up - at a cost of over $100 million dollars. 

The pipeline is owned by the Plains All American company. The rupture was first noticed by a company worker in Texas, who saw decreased pressure in the line that runs from a oil platform in federal waters to the Gaviota pier. The 30-year-old pipeline’s walls had corroded to a point that it burst.

Central Coast Congressman Salud Carbajal spoke on the House floor Friday morning, marking the anniversary of the spill.

“I remember all too well the horrifying sights and smells when over 100,000 [gallons] of crude oil poured from the Plains All American ruptured pipeline,” Carbajal said. “The full extent of damage and its total economic and environmental impacts to our region, won’t be known for years. I was pleased that President Obama signed into law last year, the SAFE PIPES Act directing the Department of Transportation’s pipeline safety program, PHMSA, to increase the frequency of their pipeline monitoring on California’s coast.”

Plains All-American was indicted by a Santa Barbara grand jury last year on 46 criminal counts related to the spill. At the time of the spill, the Los Angeles Times reported federal records showed that since 2006, Plains All-American had racked up 175 maintenance and safety violations, and the Environmental Protection Agency sued the company in 2010 for oil spills in Kansas, Louisiana and other states.

Financial impacts from the spill are not only affecting Plains All American. In mid-April the oil company Venoco unexpectedly quit-claimed its leases in the Santa Barbara Channel and its oil platform Holly, and filed for bankruptcy.

California Coastal Commissioner Jennifer Lucchesi, speaking at the May Coastal Commission meeting, briefed her colleagues about why Venoco went under.

“It really centers back on the Refugio Oil Spill. Line 901 was the only pipeline that transferred Platform Holly oil to the processing facility and then into market,” Lucchesi said. “So when that rupture occurred, Platform Holly was shut in. And has been shut in for two years now.”

In March, Plains All American said it was repairing the pipeline.

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