Michael A. Mariant / AP

Firm behind California oil spill has shaky safety record

Plains All American Pipeline has a long history of safety and environmental violations, records show

The U.S. pipeline operator responsible for Tuesday’s rupture, which released up to 105,000 gallons of oil into the Pacific Ocean off Southern California, has a shaky safety record, reports show.

A rupture in a 24-inch pipeline operated by Plains All American Pipeline left a 4-mile trail of oil on the shores along Highway 101 near Santa Barbara, according to Coast Guard Petty Officer Andrea Anderson.

Officials warned the public to keep off the polluted shoreline after toxic fumes were reported in the area. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife said Wednesday that it was assessing the damage to the area’s wildlife and on Wednesday night, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in Santa Barbara County due to the effects of the spill.

Plains said it shut down the flow of oil after the spill and initiated its emergency response procedures. Boom trucks were sent in Tuesday to clean the water.

“Plains deeply regrets this release has occurred and is making every effort to limit its environmental impact,” the company said in a statement. “Our focus remains on ensuring the safety of all involved.”

The company did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.

Tuesday’s spill follows a long history of safety and environmental violations by the company in the United States and Canada, news reports and Environmental Protection Agency records show.

In 2014 a Plains pipeline ruptured in Los Angeles’ Atwater Village, sending more than 18,000 gallons of crude running through the city’s streets. Toxic fumes were reported in the industrial area for days after the spill.

The company has been cited for 10 oil spills that violated the Clean Water Act in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Kansas. In 2010, Plains settled with the EPA after agreeing to pay $3.2 million in civil penalties.

In April 2011 a pipeline operated by the company’s Canadian branch, Plains Midstream Canada, ruptured in a remote area of Alberta’s boreal forest, releasing at least 37,000 barrels of crude oil. The same line ruptured in 2006, spilling about 180 barrels. 

In a 2012 spill, a smaller line operated by Plains Midstream Canada ruptured, spilling 2,900 barrels of crude into the Red Deer River in central Alberta. The company was ordered in January to hire a third party to audit its pipelines in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario after regulators said the company failed to comply with previous safety directives.

Despite its spill record, Plains has plans to construct a pipeline in Arkansas, where an Exxon Mobil pipeline ruptured in March 2013, spilling more than 134,000 gallons of crude oil into a housing subdivision, forcing hundreds of residents to evacuate.

Plains’ recent pipeline ruptures come amid increasing pipeline accidents across the U.S. involving different operators, government data show.

There were 704 oil and gas pipeline incidents involving leaks or emergency shutdowns to avoid accidents in 2014, according to data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), a branch of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

That averages nearly two spills every day last year in the United States.

The pipeline incidents from 2014 resulted in 19 deaths, 96 injuries and over $300 million in reported property damage, PHMSA data show. Since 1995, there have been more than 10,000 incidents, 371 deaths, 1,398 injuries and in excess of $6 billion in reported property damage.

With wire services

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