Mobil Decides to Replace 75 Miles of Leaky Pipeline

Times Staff Writer

Rather than keep patching its aging and leaky underground pipeline, Mobil Oil has decided to replace 75 miles of the high-pressure line in a massive construction project that will stretch from Kern County to the company's refinery in Torrance, tearing up streets in the San Fernando Valley, the Westside and South Bay.

Mobil spokesman James Carbonetti said Monday that the construction project will take two years to complete, but he was unable to say how long street segments would be impassable.

The new pipeline will parallel the old one along most of its length, crossing sections of Los Angeles, Santa Clarita, Culver City, Inglewood, Hawthorne and Torrance, as well as unincorporated Los Angeles County. Mobil needs approval from each jurisdiction.

Mobil's move, which could cost up to $75 million, comes after state fire safety officials voiced concern about corrosion in the pipeline, which carries 63,000 barrels of heated crude oil a day at pressures up to 1,300 pounds per square inch.

The line has been plagued by a series of recent leaks, including two back-to-back breaks last year:

* On Sept. 10, 1988, about 93,000 gallons of San Joaquin Valley crude oil poured onto Ventura Boulevard in Encino, slathering sidewalks, driveways and automobiles with a thick layer of goo that eventually seeped into storm drains.

* Less than three weeks later, the line broke again--in Sherman Oaks only a few hundred yards from the earlier break--while Mobil was conducting a pressure test on the line. About 120,000 gallons of water and oil emptied onto the street in that leak.

"The two breaks in (the) San Fernando Valley in 1988, along with the public controversy and concerns of the City Council, prompted Mobil to offer this replacement pipeline," according to a Los Angeles city report on the pipeline proposal.

Carbonetti said the need to eliminate the risk of pressure tests, which is the main way Mobil tests its line, also was a major factor in the decision to build a new pipeline.

16 Inches in Diameter

Unlike the existing pipeline, which varies from 10 to 16 inches in diameter, the new line will be a standard 16 inches in diameter. The uniform size will permit Mobil to use a device that crawls through the pipeline, measuring the strength of magnetic fields that will tell engineers about the thickness of the pipe wall and any corrosion, Carbonetti said.

Carbonetti said that without that sort of testing, Mobil officials have been unable to determine how thin the line has gotten.

Placed into service in 1916, various sections of the pipeline have been replaced over the years. Segments range in age from two to 50 years.

The recent ruptures, which have been attributed to corrosion, were a signal that more leaking was likely, Carbonetti said.

"Not that it is imminent," he said, "but we feel, in view of the operational problems we have had in the last year and half, that we ought to make (the pipeline) uniform in size and also have the latest covering on the pipe."

The new line will be coated with an epoxy compound to reduce exterior corrosion.

Will Avoid Rush Hours

To minimize traffic snarls, work on the pipeline will be scheduled to avoid rush hours, according to Tom Connor, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Department of Transportation.

"There will be traffic lane requirements that will prohibit them from working in peak hours--just like a waterline or a sewer line," Connor said.

"They will have to work middays and close up their line at night."

When the project is completed, the old pipeline will go out of service.

Carbonetti said the pipeline will have a larger capacity than the existing line, but that Mobil is not planning any expansion at the Torrance refinery and it will not allow the pipeline to be used by other oil companies as a substitute for the Angeles pipeline project, which also proposed bringing crude oil from San Joaquin Valley oil fields to refineries in the Los Angeles Basin. The Angeles pipeline project was killed after community opposition.

Major Streets Affected

In Los Angeles, the major streets affected by the project will be portions of Sierra Highway, San Fernando Road, Balboa Boulevard, Rinaldi Street, Woodley Avenue, Victory Boulevard, Sepulveda Boulevard, Sawtelle Boulevard, and La Cienega Boulevard.

In Culver City, the streets affected will include parts of Sepulveda and Sawtelle boulevards.

In the South Bay, the major streets affected will be Inglewood Avenue, 142nd Street and Prairie Avenue, the last leg of the pipeline.

Public hearings on the project will be held within 90 days in the six cities and unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County that will be affected by the project. The first hearings are scheduled for Van Nuys High School on Sept. 6 and at University High School in West Los Angeles on Sept. 7. On Sept. 28, the Los Angeles Board of Transportation will vote on the project at a City Hall hearing.

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