Up to 105,000 gallons of oil obtained via offshore drilling have spilled from a pipeline owned by Plains All American at Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County in California. At least 21,000 gallons have poured into the Pacific Ocean and the spill’s impacts stretch nine miles, according to the Associated Press.
As a result, California Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency in Santa Barbara County, which he said in a press statement “cuts red tape and helps the state quickly mobilize all available resources.”
“The 11-mile Plains American Coastal Pipeline connects Exxon’s Las Flores Canyon facility – which provides basic processing for crude produced from California’s Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) – to Plain’s larger Line 63 pipeline system,” the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) explained in a blog post. “[T]his incident demonstrates the real risks associated with industry plans to inundate California’s coastal waters, pipelines, rail lines and refineries with tar sands crudes.
The spill, reminding some of the much-bigger 1969 Santa Barbara offshore oil spill, comes just several months after the Environmental Defense Center filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) for secretly permitting offshore hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in the deepwater areas off the coast of California. Both ExxonMobil and the American Petroleum Institute issued motions to intervene as co-defendants in that case, which the judge granted.
“This spill shows, yet again, that safe and responsible oil and gas drilling are myths,” Marissa Knodel, climate campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said in press release. “Despite these terrible impacts, the Obama administration wants to open up new areas for drilling, which presents a dangerous and unjust risk to the homes and livelihoods of coastal communities, and to wildlife.”
As previously reported here on DeSmogBlog, Plains All American may begin exporting oil from its Yorktown, Virginia facility if the US export ban is lifted. U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski recently introduced two bills that would lift the decades-long ban on exporting U.S.-produced crude oil.
Even without the lifting of the export ban, though, the industry has landed an exemption from the Obama Administration for exporting oil condensate. And Plains has expressed interest in cashing in.
“We have the stabilization, distillation towers and the pipeline system all the way to the dock, we can pretty much trace the pedigree of that barrel all the way through,” CEO Greg Armstrongsaid in an August conference call with analysts. “The only thing that might get in our way is political arbitrariness.”
That arbitrariness ended with the quiet end-of-the-year oil condensate decision made by the Obama Administration, which Plains cited in its 2014 U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Form 10-K.
“During 2014, the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security (“BIS”) clarified that processed condensate may be eligible to export if certain criteria are met. In response to our request for clarification, the BIS issued a letter to us stating that the distillation processes employed by PAA at its Gardendale facility satisfies the conditions of the BIS to convert lease condensate into an exportable petroleum product,” Plains wrote.
“In December 2014, we received a letter from the BIS clarifying that the distillation processes employed at our Gardendale facility satisfies the conditions of the BIS to convert lease condensate into an exportable petroleum product.”
The company was also responsible for one of the biggest oil spills in Alberta, Canada’s history back in 2011 on its Rainbow Pipeline, which Greenpeace Canada described in a report as an environmental crime that went unpunished.
In a June 2013 article, Andrew Nikiforuk of The Tyee described Plains as a “repeat offender” whose pipelines have ruptured and spilled several times both in the U.S. and in Canada in the past decade. As the Los Angeles Times reported, Plains “has accumulated 175 safety and maintenance infractions since 2006” via the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).
“Plains’ rate of incidents per mile of pipe is more than three times the national average,” wrote the Times. “Among more than 1,700 pipeline operators listed in a database maintained by the federal agency, only four companies reported more infractions than Plains.”