May 16 6:42 PM

Pipeline company in LA oil spill has history of violations

A worker cleans up oil from a pipeline rupture that caused about 19,000 gallons of crude oil spill onto streets May 15, 2014, in Los Angeles, California.
Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

Plains All American Pipeline, the owners of the 130-mile oil conduit that ruptured early Thursday, spilling an estimated 19,000 gallons of crude onto the streets of Atwater Village in Los Angeles, had a history of safety and environmental violations, and ties to previous oil transport accidents.

The leak, which lasted about 45 minutes before the pipeline was shut down remotely, covered a half-mile area with crude oil, and forced the evacuation of nearby buildings. Los Angeles Fire Department responders corralled the oil with sand dikes and vacuumed it into tanker trucks before attacking what was left with a soap solution and what are now being called diaper-like sponges (previous reports said that actual baby diapers were initially used).

Plains All American, a division of Plains Pipeline LP, had been cited for violations of the Clean Water Act in relation to 10 oil spills in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Kansas. A 2010 settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency required Plains to spend approximately $41 million to upgrade 10,420 miles of crude oil pipeline operated in the United States, and pay $3.2 million in civil penalties.

Plains’ Canadian division is responsible for three major pipeline accidents in Alberta, including a 28,000-barrel spill in 2011 — called the largest in the area three decades — that polluted wetlands and the Peace River.

Also of note, last month’s derailment of a train near Lynchburg, Virginia — which resulted in a massive explosion and fire, and caused three tanker cars to fall into the James River, spilling their cargo of crude oil — was headed to a nearby storage depot operated by Plains All American.

Plains is also currently under scrutiny for its plan to partner with Valero Energy to build a pipeline that will bisect Arkansas, carrying crude from Oklahoma to Tennessee, through at least three Arkansas wildlife preserves.

Part of the EPA settlement with Plains required it to install monitoring equipment to alert the company to pipeline breaches, allowing operators to quickly shut down the broken pipe and limit the damage. The Atwater Village leak, however, was not flagged until area residents called the Fire Department, which in turn had to notify Plains to request a pipeline shutdown.


Renee Lewis contributed to this report.


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