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Owners of oil pipeline that leaked in Santa Barbara Co. hold presentation in AG, protestors expected

Posted at 5:49 PM, Feb 28, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-28 21:58:29-05

The owner of a pipeline that breached in 2015 causing more than 100,000 gallons of crude oil to spill near Santa Barbara County’s Refugio State Beach is holding a public hearing Thursday in Arroyo Grande to discuss the potential environmental impacts of building two new pipelines through the Central Coast.

Plains All American plans to discuss its proposal to replace its existing 901 line, which is a 10.9-mile insulated 24-inch pipeline, and its 903 line, which is a 113-mile insulated 30-inch pipeline.

The presentation comes just months after the Texas-based company was found guilty at trial in Santa Barbara County of an 8-count indictment related to the breach of its line near Refugio State Beach.

Much of the oil leaked into the Pacific Ocean, killing hundreds of birds and marine life and polluting the ocean.

Protestors with the Center for Biological Diversity’s Oakland division planned to rally at the meeting, arguing that Plains All American should not be permitted to build.

“Plains’ pipeline was responsible for a massive oil spill in 2015,” said Blake Kopcho, a member of the Center for Biological Diversity. “They don’t deserve a second chance to spill on our coast again.”

Kopcho said the CBD opposes the construction because of the company’s track record of spilling oil on the Central Coast.

The opposition group rallied Wednesday night in Santa Barbara, where a similar public hearing was held.

Following the breach of the line in 2015, the company followed a mandate to flush its lines so that no further oil could be released into the environment.

Plains All American could choose to reopen the line now that the breach has been addressed but the company said in a statement that it would instead like to construct two new lines.

“There’s currently an existing line shut in since 2015. We have the right to restart that line but we think it’s in our best interest and the best interest of the community to replace the line,” said Steve Greig, Director of Government Affairs for Plains.

In its proposal, the company outlines plans to replace Lines 901 and 903 with smaller diameter and smaller capacity un-insulated steel pipelines. The company would also construct a new pump station in the Cuyama Valley region of San Luis Obispo County.

One line would run from Santa Ynez north to the Gaviota State Park pumping station and northeast to the pumping station in the Sisquoc Valley. The other would run east from the Sisquoc Valley pump station to Kern County.

The newly proposed route would be very similar to the current route except it would go around Buellton instead of through the city.

According to the proposal, the lines would cross through state Department of Fish and Wildlife land and federal lands including Los Padres National Forest, the Carrizo Plain National Monument and Butter Creek Wildlife Refuge.

Approximately 654 trees would be removed or altered, according to the proposal, with impacts to coast live oak woodlands, annual grassland, California coastal scrub, riparian and wetland habitats.

Around 78 miles of pipeline would be removed under the new project but much of the existing lines would be abandoned, according to the report.

Additional studies would need to be completed to understand the potential risks for accidents that would expose the public and environment in the event of an oil spill.

“Restoring pipeline service provides a reliable transportation option for offshore production and restores a critical supply of crude oil to California refineries, thus reducing the state’s reliance on crude oil produced outside California,” Plains All American said in its press release.

The Thursday meeting was meant to discuss the project and associated environmental concerns including potential mitigation measures and possible alternatives.

But Kopcho said his group is determined to persuade local officials to reconsider the project altogether.

“The community doesn’t want another coast oil pipeline in their backyard,” Kopcho said.

The meeting takes place at the South County Regional Center in Arroyo Grande at 6 p.m.

Grieg said once the study is complete and all necessary permits are obtained, the pipeline could begin construction as early as mid-2020. That timeline has the pipeline operating by 2022.