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New pipeline rules in response to Refugio oil spill - KSBY.com | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

New pipeline rules in response to Refugio oil spill

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(Photo: KSBY) (Photo: KSBY)

A 2 foot wide, 10 mile long underground pipeline named line 901 ruptured on May 19 2015, spilling 142,800 gallons of crude oil along 7 miles of California coastline. The thick oil killed and injured hundreds of animals, damaged the once-diverse environment and had a devastating impact on the local economy.

In response, new policies and higher standards were implemented this past year in the state of California for oil pipelines. Three bills were signed into law to make safety standards much tougher on pipelines throughout the state.

"It’s not a matter of if there will be an incident, it's a matter of when," said U.S. Representative Lois Capps, who backed bills along with several lawmakers to help prevent another pipeline breach. “We have made some progress since, not enough, but we have made some progress."

One bill (SB 295) requires state pipelines to be inspected annually by a Fire Marshall. Another (SB 414) calls for making oil response times faster and more effective in organization for clean-up. The final one (AB 864) forces old and new pipelines near environmentally and ecologically sensitive areas in the coast zone to install the best-known technology.

"With these new bills we will definitely be in a better place moving forward with state pipelines," said Linda Krop, Chief Counsel on Santa Barbara's Environmental Defense Center. She is hopeful these new laws will help prevent another Refugio.

"In that case, the pipeline didn't have the best technology, it wasn't being inspected often. It had a problem that should have been detected before the spill happened," said Krop.

At the time of the spill, the Plains pipeline was under federal oversight with less stringent regulations. Federal law only requires companies to inspect their pipelines every five years. Plains inspects its pipes every three years. Federal pipelines are also not required to install the latest preventative tools.

"One of these technologies is automatic shutoff valves that will automatically be triggered with any kind of incidents," said Rep. Capps.

Advocates say such valves are a simple way of limiting damage from accidents. However, the American Petroleum Institute says these valves are costly, running about $1.5 million per device.

Santa Barbara pipeline 901 didn't have a shut-off valve and it wasn't required to under federal law.  

"We have great new state laws. When that pipeline reopens, we need to make sure it is subject to state regulation and not federal regulation," said Krop.

Throughout California, there are bout 4,000 miles of pipelines under the jurisdiction of the state and about 1,500 miles of pipelines that are only under federal jurisdiction.

KSBY tried to contact Plains All American Pipeline by phone and e-mail. The company did not respond to questions about when the pipeline could be back in operation.

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