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Offshore Platforms Corroded Prior to Oil Spill

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

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Almost four years after a spill dumped roughly 140,000 gallons of crude oil onto Refugio State Beach, in Santa Barbara County, California, federal records indicate that offshore drilling platforms along the state’s coast had corrosion issues and gas leaks that required emergency response before the incident. And late last month, a pipeline company connected with the oil spill was fined $3.35 million.

Federal inspectors found that Plains All American Pipeline, the pipeline operator facing the several-million-dollar fine, had made several errors that were reportedly preventable, while also failing to detect the rupture quickly enough and not responding fast enough.

Refugio Oil Spill

Plains owns the 10.6-mile pipeline that runs alongside U.S. 101 in California that suffered a rupture in a 2-foot-wide pipe on May 19, 2015.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration Office of Pipeline Safety has since identified external corrosion as the cause of the pipeline failure in its preliminary findings.

The PHMSA report explained that the corroded section of pipe burst after pumps on the pipeline were shut down and restarted, sending a larger volume of oil through the pipe at higher pressure—a jump to 721 pounds per square inch from the earlier 677 psi.

Despite a low-pressure alarm indicating pressure had dropped below 200 psi after the break, the pipeline wasn’t shut down until more than 30 minutes later, contributing to the volume of oil released in the spill.

In May 2016, Plains was indicted on 46 criminal counts by a Santa Barbara County grand jury.

The indictment accused Plains of four felonies, including knowingly discharging a pollutant into state waters. The other 42 charges were said to be misdemeanors related to wildlife losses.

Pipeline Operator Sentencing

Late last month, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce E. Dudley announced the sentencing of Plains, with fines and penalties totaling $3,347,650. According to the attorney general’s office, at the time of the trial, over 100,000 gallons of crude oil was never recovered from the incident.

In September 2018, a Santa Barbara County jury returned a verdict stating that the pipeline operator had failed to maintain its pipeline, which led to the disaster that discharged oil into the Pacific Ocean, which is a felony. Plains was also found guilty of other charges, including failing to follow its own plan for an event such as this, failing to alert the necessary emergency response agencies and six counts of killing marine wildlife and other animals. Plains was also found guilty of violating a county ordinance that prohibits oil spills.

“Plains All American Pipeline’s criminal behavior was responsible for the oil leak that despoiled our coastline and endangered our environment,” said Becerra.

“My office has zero tolerance for these types of criminal acts. I am proud of our prosecution team who helped to bring a measure of justice for the massive loss that the Santa Barbara community endured.”

Corroded Offshore Drilling Platforms

The three offshore drilling platforms, along with four other platforms, were idled by the time of the 2015 pipeline failure. The four other platforms have since been decommissioned.

Federal officials who inspected Platform Hondo on May 1, 2015, found a number of corrosion issues and platform components that were not in compliance. Three weeks prior, officials also found five failed gas detectors as well as leakage rates that were higher “than the maximum allowable” on the structure’s Well H-12U.

Platform Hondo also had a gas leak the morning of April 27, 2015, and Platform Harmony had one in late March of the same year. An inspection of Harmony found more corrosion and electrical issues.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the issues with ExxonMobil’s offshore drilling platforms, revealed in documentation obtained by the Center, raise questions about the platforms’ condition. As it stands, the company wants to restart these platforms.


Tagged categories: Corrosion; Government; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Inspection; NA; North America; Oil and Gas; Pipeline

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