Environmental Policy News

PHMSA Issues Warnings, Compliance Order to Company Cited in California Pipeline Spill

On Friday, 11 September 2015, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued warnings to Texas-based Plains All American Pipeline concerning an oil pipeline rupture that harmed the Santa Barbara coastline in California in May 2015.

While the US Code allows a civil penalty up to $2,000,000 for violations after 4 January 2012, and $1,000,000 for those before, PHMSA “decided not to propose a civil penalty assessment at this time.”

Instead, they issued a Proposed Compliance Order, in which Plains must test breakout tanks according to PHSMA specifications, “re-evaluate its preventive and mitigative measures,” and provide documentation for these measures to PHMSA.

Inspectors found two probable violations of federal safety regulations during inspections of Lines 901 and 903, which together connect offshore platforms off the Santa Barbara Coast to Bakersfield, in 2013 and 2014.

PHMSA has proposed six violations from inspections begun in 2013 – some 20 months before the May 2015 pipeline rupture near Santa Barbara – but imposed no fines.

Among the findings, the agency said Plains All American Pipeline failed to properly document pressure tests on tanks and failed to keep adequate records on how it would prevent spills in sensitive environmental areas, or respond if one did occur. The agency said the findings identify areas where the company should improve safety.

The proposed order said the company did not adequately document its emergency training and did not have paperwork to demonstrate that supervisors knew about emergency response procedures.

Among the inspectors' more serious findings, Plains All American Pipeline failed to keep adequate records of safety evaluations performed on the pipeline system.

Officials found that the company didn't keep adequate pressure testing records for breakout tanks designed to handle pressure surges.

The company couldn't locate records of an internal safety evaluation that was performed on two segments of the oil pipeline that runs between the towns of Sisquoc in Santa Barbara County and Emidio in Kern County, according to the inspectors' findings.

Regulations require operators to identify and mitigate risks on their pipeline then develop measures to safeguard the pipeline. A Plains employee told regulators in 2014 that the company was "unable to locate " their 2013 evaluation for the two segments.

Plains was issued a warning for not adequately documenting its annual emergency response training program. The company did not provide documents showing that supervisors maintained a "thorough knowledge" of the emergency response procedures they were in charge of, regulators said.

The federal Notice of Probable Violation and Proposed Compliance Order can be found here.

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