Federal regulators have ordered Plains All American to restrict usage of a second pipeline in California as preliminary results revealed extensive external corrosion issues with the pipeline that spilled more than 100,000 gallons of oil along the California coast at Refugio State Beach, including at least 21,000 gallons that poured into the Pacific Ocean.
Line 901 had metal loss ranging from 54% to 74% of the original pipe wall thickness when it burst on May 19, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which also estimated that the site of the fissure might have been as thin as 1/16th of an inch. Plains has a long history of safety and maintenance violations well above the national rate of incidents-per-mile of pipe.
The second pipeline, Line 903, transports crude oil 128 miles from Santa Barbara County to Kern County. It was found to have similar levels of corrosion, prompting the PHMSA to require Plains to operate Line 903 at reduced pressure in a corrective action order sent to the company on June 3. PHMSA also gives Plains 60 days to inspect Line 903 and “address any findings that require remedial measures.”
In the order, Jeffrey D. Wiese, Associate Administrator for Pipeline Safety at PHMSA, wrote that “continued operation of Line 901 and Line 903 without corrective measures is or would be hazardous to life, property, or the environment. Additionally… I find that a failure to issue this Order expeditiously to require immediate corrective action would result in the likelihood of serious harm to life, property, or the environment.”
California House Rep. Lois Capps and Senators Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, and Ed Markey sent a letter to Greg Armstrong, Chairman and CEO of Plains, demanding more information regarding the company’s safety systems and response to the oil spill after learning of the findings that Line 901 showed signs of extensive corrosion.
“We are also concerned about inconsistencies in the inspection reports about this pipeline, which raise questions about the safety of other pipelines that you operate,” they wrote.
In the letter, the lawmakers say that, according to the corrective action order issued by PHMSA, Plains does not appear to have responded with enough urgency to minimize the impacts of the spill.
Per the PHMSA, Plains employees first detected anomalies in Line 901 at 11:30 am on May 19, discovered the failure at 1:30pm, and reported it to the National Response Center at 2:56pm.
“Based on this timeline of events, we are concerned that Plains Pipeline may not have detected this spill or reported it to federal officials as quickly as possible,” the letter says.
“New reports also indicate that Plains Pipeline initially stopped pumping after the anomalies were first detected, but then resumed pumping about 20 minutes later. Any delay in detecting or reporting this spill, or shutting down the pipeline could have exacerbated the extent of the damage to the environment.”
Among the information requested from Plains was confirmation of reports that Line 901 did not have an automatic shut-off valve installed, which can shut off a pipeline quickly enough to significantly reduce the amount of oil or gas released in a pipeline failure.
Image Credit: T.P. Romise