An oil pipeline operator that suffered a spill of more than 100,000 gallons of crude on the California coast this year must purge a neighboring line and make repairs so it doesn’t fail.
The line owned by Plains All American Pipeline ended up built and operated in the same way as the line that broke May 19 outside Santa Barbara and federal regulators found inspections of both pipes had underestimated corrosion inside.
Although officials idled the 129-mile pipeline in late May, it has been full of unprocessed crude from offshore oil platforms that could contribute to further corrosion as rust inhibitor loses its effectiveness.
The corrective action order is the latest from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) targeting Plains for problems that have come to light since the spill.
The agency continues to investigate why the two-foot wide pipeline sprang a leak onshore and then began flowing across a pristine Santa Barbara County beach into the Pacific before the leak ended up contained.
Oil from the spill washed up on beaches more than 100 miles away and officials found about 300 dead animals, including pelicans and sea lions.
Corrosion appears to be the main culprit behind the spill and regulators previously said preliminary results from internal inspections revealed the 10.6 mile-long pipeline lost nearly half the metal near the break had vastly underestimated just how thin the pipe had become.
Regulators said Friday internal inspections over the past 10 years on both lines had “under-called” problems in areas of general corrosion. Field examinations found these problem areas were bigger than a high-tech tool that runs through the pipe had predicted.
However, Plains never shared its field reports with the company that ran the tests, which is common practice, the agency said. That prevented the unnamed inspection company from being able to validate its detection capabilities, limitations and confidence in its measurements.
“This is a very serious statement from PHMSA,” said Richard Kuprewicz, a pipeline safety expert. “They get this and they’re moving in the right direction.”
Plains said in a statement it did not agree with several of the agency’s findings, though it planned to purge the line.
Plains must also purge a 37-mile pipeline system that runs from three offshore platforms operated by Freeport-McMoRan Oil and Gas to the longer Plains pipeline. They will have to fill the pipes with an inert gas.