Texas firm in Santa Barbara oil spill ordered to fix ‘probable’ safety violations

Santa Barbara residents walk the oil coated beach at Refugio State Beach looking for wildlife to rescue on May 19, 2015.

Santa Barbara residents walk the oil coated beach at Refugio State Beach looking for wildlife to rescue on May 19, 2015.

(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
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Federal pipeline safety regulators Friday issued a series of warnings to the Texas owners of an oil pipeline that ruptured and spilled as many as 143,000 gallons of crude along the Santa Barbara Coast in May.

Federal inspectors found two “probable” violations of federal safety regulations during inspections of Lines 901 and 903, which together connect offshore platforms off the Santa Barbara Coast to Bakersfield, in 2013 and 2014.

Among the inspectors’ more serious findings, Plains All American Pipeline failed to keep adequate records of safety evaluations performed on the pipeline system. Though the findings are separate from the investigation into the May 19 oil spill, they point to lax safety oversight on the part of Plains.


Officials with the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration found that the company didn’t keep adequate pressure testing records for breakout tanks designed to handle surges in hazardous material where the pipeline goes into Kern County.

The company couldn’t locate records of an internal safety evaluation that was performed on two segments of the oil pipeline that runs between the towns of Sisquoc in Santa Barbara County and Emidio in Kern County, according to the inspectors’ findings.

Regulations require operators to identify and mitigate risks on their pipeline then develop measures to safeguard the pipeline.

A Plains employee told regulators in 2014 that the company was “unable to locate “ their 2013 evaluation for the two segments.

Plains was issued a warning for not adequately documenting its annual emergency response training program. The company did not provide documents showing that supervisors maintained a “thorough knowledge” of the emergency response procedures they were in charge of, regulators said.

Regulators were concerned with Plains officials’ lack of general knowledge about California’s One-Call system to report digging projects to the state.


Regulators also expressed concern that Plains had unclear procedures for its decision-making process when an internal inspection tool used to inspect pipelines found evidence of wear or corrosion in the pipeline.

A Plains spokesman said the company would work to fix the issues outlined by regulators.
Plains has come under fire from federal and state lawmakers for what they call a slow response to the May oil spill, which left 195 birds and 106 marine mammals dead.

The company did not alert federal regulators to the leak until nearly 3 p.m. on the day of the spill, even though pipeline operators in Midland had shut down the line at 11:30 a.m. after detecting pressure anomalies.

Company officials told lawmakers that officials in Bakersfield who were responsible for alerting federal regulators were unable to contact employees on the ground near where Line 901 ruptured.

In a letter to lawmakers, the company said workers in the field were “busy dealing with the immediate demands and distractions.”

Federal regulators were notified at 2:56 p.m.

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