Phillips 66 oil line in Wilmington blamed for 1,200-gallon spill

Crews worked Tuesday to fix a fingertip-sized hole in an underground pipe that allowed about 1,200 gallons of crude oil to seep onto a quiet residential street in Wilmington.

Phillips 66, which earlier in the day said it was almost positive that it was not to blame for the leak, later took responsibility and put the blame on one of its out-of-service pipes.

Don Ellis, a hazardous-materials specialist with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, said that when an underground oil pipeline is withdrawn from use, it is supposed to be capped and the material inside vacuumed out.


Janet Grothe, a spokeswoman for Phillips 66, said the company would investigate why oil remained in the pipe, which she said was taken out of service before Phillips 66 acquired it.

Los Angeles Councilman Joe Buscaino, who was touring the area, said the pipe had been withdrawn from service in 1998.

Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Los Angeles), a member of the House subcommittee on railroads, pipelines and hazardous materials, said she may hold a hearing on pipeline safety.

“I’m wondering where’s the oversight to make sure these pipes were being regularly inspected and what happens when there is a weak spot or corrosion, who’s responsible for seeing they’re repaired,” she said.

Hahn, who lives in nearby San Pedro, visited the spill about 7:30 a.m., when oil was still spilling into the street.

“Clearly there was a noxious smell in the area,” she said. “It actually made me a little sick to my stomach.”

Despite complaints about the smell from Hahn and residents in the 1200 block of North Neptune Avenue, authorities said they received no medical calls and that tests showed no health hazards.

Wilmington is home to three oil refineries, and probably has more oil pipelines than any other area in Southern California, Buscaino said.

“Some of these pipes are so old,” said Mario Benjamin, a Fire Department hazardous-materials specialist.

Residents said the oil, which began leaking Monday afternoon, was bubbling up through cracks in the street. Crews continued working through the night to find the cause.

Natalie Aleman, 19, who lives in one of the homes that line the street, said she was awakened by jackhammers about 4 a.m.

“It smelled like the La Brea Tar Pits,” she said.

By Tuesday afternoon, the street was filled with trucks and work crews spreading material to absorb the oil, along with workers from state and local agencies.

Although Phillips initially thought the pipe didn’t belong to the firm, the company was involved in the cleanup early on “as a good neighbor,” Grothe said.

She said that Phillips’ crews would steam clean the street and that repairs would be completed in a week.