Readers React

'We're sorry' isn't enough after Santa Barbara oil spill

To the editor: Last week, I and presumably many others in Santa Barbara received a glossy postcard from Greg Armstrong, the chief executive of Plains All American Pipeline, expressing his "deepest apologies" for his company's recent oil spill. ("Owner of ruptured oil pipeline has history of big spills, fines," June 5)

I would be willing to accept the apology if this were a rare incident by a company with a good track record. However, as The Times reported, this company has accidentally spilled nearly 2 million gallons of this hazardous liquid over the last 11 years in the U.S. and Canada. Armstrong's letter of apology might have been paid for by his company's $75-million reserve fund for "environmental liabilities," a tiny part of the $43 billion in revenue it generated last year.

The pipeline consultant quoted in your article said: "In 40 years of investigating pipeline incidents, I haven't seen one that wasn't preventable. There are no such things as accidents." I do not accept Armstrong's apology.

Dennis Thompson, Santa Barbara


To the editor: The excellent report details how Plains has a history of more than two-dozen previous spills, with confirmed violations of required maintenance laws that resulted in fines.

The answer to the question of why Plains has failed to provide sufficient inspection and maintenance of its pipelines over the years may well be that the company considers the fines to be a minor business expense.

As The Times reports, a series of spills in 2010 resulted in fines of $3.25 million, which seems like a large amount until one compares it with Plains' total revenue in 2010 of about $25.9 billion. The fines in 2010 amounted to about an hour's worth of revenue for Plains.

Oil companies and other industries will continue to flout safety and pollution laws until fines for violations are drastically enhanced and the cost to violators for pollution abatement includes a major punitive component added to the actual cost.

Cyril Barnert, Los Angeles

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