2 Legislators Question Oil Pipeline Reliability

Times Staff Writer

Although the Mobil Oil Corp. pipeline that ruptured twice last month in the San Fernando Valley meets all safety regulations, members of a state Senate committee expressed doubt Thursday that future accidents can be avoided.

Two members of the Senate Committee on Toxics and Public Safety Management held a public hearing in Van Nuys on the Sept. 10 and Sept. 27 pipeline ruptures and called for more frequent and thorough safety testing of oil pipelines in California.

State and federal safety regulations do little to identify weak spots in pipelines in advance of ruptures or to provide authorities with knowledge of how pipeline systems are aging, concluded Sens. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles) and Herschel Rosenthal (D-Los Angeles) at the end of a 2-hour session.


“How safe can we feel that the rest of the pipeline is any good?” asked Rosenthal after Mobil officials noted that segments of the pipeline that broke last month were replaced. “We may be sitting on a volcano here, it seems to me.”

The Mobil pipeline runs 188 miles from the San Joaquin Valley to a refinery in Torrance. The pipe ruptured Sept. 10 and at least 90,000 gallons of crude oil leaked into streets in Encino. On Sept. 27, while the pipe was filled with water for a high-pressure safety test, it ruptured again, spilling about 126,000 gallons of oily water in a Sherman Oaks neighborhood.

At the hearing Wednesday, officials from Mobil, the state fire marshal’s office--which enforces pipeline safety regulations--and other agencies and citizens groups testified before the committee.

Richard Robbins, manager of the Mobil pipeline, said exterior corrosion of the line caused the two breaks in September. He said the pipeline has ruptured six other times in the 1980s. The smallest leak was less than 100 gallons of oil; the largest was the Sept. 10 spill.

Safety regulations require the high-pressure water test every five years, but Mobil has conducted it every two years and earlier this month decided to make it an annual test at the recommendation of the state fire marshal’s office.

The track record of eight breaks in as many years was particularly alarming to committee members.

“I think this very well could happen again,” Committee Chairman Torres said of the pipeline breaks. He and Rosenthal said the committee will explore legislation that would require better safety valve systems for cutting off oil flow. They also called for new safety technologies such as electronic devices that move inside a pipe to locate corrosion points.