US House committee leaders send letters to Plains, PHMSA about leak

US House Energy and Commerce Committee leaders from both parties asked Plains Pipeline LP and the US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration for more information following a Plains system rupture that leaked crude oil near Santa Barbara, Calif.

US House Energy and Commerce Committee leaders from both parties asked Plains Pipeline LP and the US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration for more information following a Plains system rupture that leaked crude oil near Santa Barbara, Calif. (OGJ Online, May 20, 2015).

The May 19 rupture leaked 1,700-2,400 bbl of oil at Refugio Beach State Park on the coast north of Santa Barbara before the Plains All American Pipeline subsidiary shut down Line 901. Plains said on June 23 that it and the Unified Response Command continue to make cleanup progress in five work zones.

PHMSA issued a corrective action order on May 22 requiring PAA to suspend operations on the line, make safety improvements, clean up the spilled crude, and submit a plan before resuming operations. California’s attorney general and Santa Barbara County’s district attorney also are conducting a joint investigation for possible civil and criminal charges.

PAA estimated that it spent $92 million on the cleanup and response through June 23, an amount which does not include other potential costs, including all third-party claims, fines, penalties or regulatory or court proceedings or lost revenues.

In a June 25 letter to PAA Chief Executive Greg Armstrong, House committee members sought information about the company’s maintenance and integrity operations on the pipeline.

A handful from this group of lawmakers sent a second letter the same day to White House Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan as well as PHMSA Interim Executive Director Stacy Cummings seeking an update on what they said are “long overdue gas and hazardous liquid pipeline safety rules” under the 2011 Pipeline Safety Act which are still awaiting action.

Seventeen of 42 mandates under that law have not been implemented, they noted. Many include rulemakings relating to integrity and maintenance programs, decisions concerning expansion of such programs, guidance on risk assessment intervals, and rules concerning automatic and remote shutoff valves, leak detection, and accident notification, among other actions, the lawmakers said.

Officials from both the Association of Oil Pipelines and the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America have told OGJ that congressional pipeline safety hearings appear likely this summer.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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