A section of Refugio State Beach tainted by oil from burst pipe.
Since 2006, the U.S.
Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration
has logged more than 175 maintenance and safety violations by the company whose pipeline burst in Santa Barbara County, California, Tuesday night. That makes its rate of incidents per mile of pipe more than three times the national average, according to an analysis by the Los Angeles Times
, which found only four companies with worse records. But those infractions only generated $115,600 in fines against the company, Plains All American Pipeline, even though the incidents caused more than $23 million in damage.
It was initially reported that 500 barrels of oil had leaked from the broken pipe, but authorities later said the total could be in the realm of 2,500 barrels, 105,000 gallons. The leak contaminated a portion of Refugio State Beach and nearby patches of ocean. A crew from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is handling clean-up on land, while the U.S. Coast Guard is handling the job on the water.
Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state emergency, a move which frees up emergency state money and resources for the cleanup. Authorities shut down both Refugio and El Capitan beaches, but most people camping in the popular area had already fled because of fumes from the leak. Camping reservations have been canceled through May 28.
Julie Cart, Jack Dolan and Doug Smith report:
The company, which transports and stores crude oil, is part of Plains All American Pipeline, which owns and operates nearly 18,000 miles of pipe networks in several states. It reported $43 billion in revenue in 2014 and $878 million in profit.
The company's infractions involved pump failure, equipment malfunction, pipeline corrosion and operator error. None of the incidents resulted in injuries. According to federal records, since 2006 the company's incidents caused more than $23 million in property damage and spilled more than 688,000 gallons of hazardous liquid. [...]
Plains Pipeline has also been cited for failing to install equipment to prevent pipe corrosion, failing to prove it had completed repairs recommended by inspectors and failing to keep records showing inspections of "breakout tanks," used to ease pressure surges in pipelines.
The area tainted by the leak is popular for camping, fishing, surfing, kayaking and watching seals, sea lions and numerous species of birds. Until 2013, the state was responsible for monitoring and inspecting some 2,000 of the 6,000 miles of pipelines in California, but that task was then turned over the federal Department of Transportation.
The company has expressed its regrets for the leak. Perhaps it would regret the situation more if fines for its repeated violations did more than empty out the petty cash drawer for the weekend.
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