May 16 11:11 AM

Faulty valve eyed in LA spill that created ‘lake’ of crude oil

Workers clean up oil from a pipe that burst causing 19,000 gallons of crude oil to spill onto streets covering an area of about a half-mile May 15, 2014, in Los Angeles.
Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

A Thursday morning oil spill in the Los Angeles town of Atwater Village is believed to have been caused by valve failure, according to Plains All American Pipeline, the Texas-based company that owns the pumping station where the leak occurred.

The company, a division of Plains Pipeline LP, now estimates the leak at 450 barrels, or roughly 18,900 gallons. That is down from early estimates of the spill, but nearly double the amount reported to have been reclaimed by cleanup crews.

The breach in the pipeline caused a geyser of oil to shoot 40 feet in the air, soaking nearby buildings and creating a pool of crude 40-feet wide and knee-deep in some places, covering about one-half square mile. It took 45 minutes to remotely shut off the flow, according to Los Angeles Fire Department Captain Jamie Moore.

Firefighters prevented the oil from spreading further by building a 2 ½-foot sand berm around the spill, creating what witnesses described as a “lake” of thick, black crude. Responders vacuumed the oil from that pool into tanker trucks, mopping up what remained with a soap solution and disposable diapers.

That is not a technical term. Those are actual, wrap-them-around-your-baby’s-butt, disposable diapers — or what the industry calls “state of the art” cleanup technology.

The 130-mile, 110,000-barrel-a-day crude oil pipeline runs from the San Joaquin valley in central California to a storage facility near the Port of Long Beach. Plains said they were not sure how long the pipe would be turned off, but estimated the cleanup to take 24 hours (but that was about 16 hours ago.).

Moore said that the spill did not contaminate the water table or get into the Los Angeles River. The L.A. River is an artificial, cement-lined channel built in the first half of the 20th Century to alleviate flooding along the path of what was once a natural waterway. The river passes right by Thursday’s spill site, and storm drains from the area flow into it, eventually emptying into the Pacific Ocean near Long Beach.

Officials had previously asserted that the oil did not enter storm drains, but did say it was possible it had seeped into area manholes. 

. . . .

Any views expressed on The Scrutineer are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera America's editorial policy.


Los Angeles
Energy, Oil

Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter