Jae C. Hong / AP Photo

Pipeline firm assured California a spill was ‘unlikely’

Plains All American Pipeline called the line that ruptured ‘state of the art’ and said spills were ‘extremely unlikely’

A Texas company whose ruptured pipeline created the largest coastal oil spill in California in 25 years had assured the government that a break in the line while possible was "extremely unlikely" and state-of-the-art monitoring could quickly detect possible leaks and alert operators, documents show.

Nearly 1,200 pages of records, filed with state regulators by Plains All American Pipeline — a company with a history of violations — detail a range of defenses the company established to guard against crude oil spills and, at the same time, prepare for the worst should a spill occur.

The company acknowledged the potential for oil to leak from the 24-inch, 10.6-mile-long pipeline west of Santa Barbara. A team of experts organized by the company, however, assessed that risk as remote, according to the records, known as a spill response plan, and were released under the state's public records act.

“The pipeline and its operation are state of the art,” asserted the analysis submitted to the state. “Spills are still possible, though extremely unlikely.”

On May 19, a 6-inch breach along a badly corroded section of the line sent up to 101,000 gallons of oil onto beaches and created an ocean slick nine miles long. The breach and the environmental damage have challenged the company's conclusions about safe operation and rigorous monitoring.

Last year, federal regulators endorsed the plan but the company is facing questions about whether it followed its own blueprint, or if it was outdated or inadequate. The analysis assessing the potential for a spill was initially conducted in 1994 and 1995, although sections have been modified as recently as last year.

Plains All American spokeswoman Meredith Matthews said it would be inappropriate to comment because of the ongoing federal investigation.

Kristen Monsell, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said the plan's list of endangered species is at least 20 years outdated and the company fell short in following through with its requirements. “It grossly understates the potential for an oil spill,” Monsell said.

The cause of the break has not been determined. But preliminary information released by federal regulators suggests that corrosion was the culprit.

As of Sunday night, the shoreline cleanup assessment technique teams have assessed 96.5 miles of shorelines and less than half have met cleanup goals. according to authorities.

More than 14,250 gallons of oily water mix have been recovered since the spill.

As of Sunday night, the official toll of dead animals as a result of the spill is now 232 — 83 marine mammals and 149 birds, according to state spokeswoman Mary Fricke.

Al Jazeera with wire services

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