Plains discusses plans for Refugio oil spill
The company responsible for the 2015 Refugio oil spill hosted an open house Thursday evening in Goleta, sharing details of the pipeline replacement process.
The event held at the Elks Lodge in Goleta included information on the Houston-based Plains All American’s Line 901/903 replacement.
On May 19, 2015, Plains’ Line 901 ruptured near Refugio State Beach, spilling an estimated 100,000 gallons of crude oil. About 20,000 gallons reached the ocean through a storm drain. More than 120 birds and about 65 marine mammals were killed in the spill.
Company officials stressed that the replacement line will handle existing production only and that no new production or offshore platforms were anticipated.
Various tables on display shared information on the route of the pipeline, permitting process, design features, construction and other information on oil and gas production.
Line 901 starts at Las Flores Canyon and runs north to Gaviota. From there it heads inland to Sisquoc to a pump station in Pentland, in Kern County.
It will remain on the existing path as the current pipe, with the exception of the city of Buellton. The existing line was put in place in the 1980s and runs within the city, under sidewalks and through backyards. The new route will go around the city which will require easements to prevent further issues, company officials said.
In December, property owners filed a class action lawsuit against Plains seeking to prevent the company from constructing the new pipeline on the grounds that the easements allow the company to run only one pipeline, and that subjecting the plaintiffs to construction of another would “overburden the easements.”
The capacity of the existing line is 300,000 barrels per day and the new line will have a projected production of about 40,000 barrels, allowing the company to reduce the size of the pipe. The existing pipe is between 24 inches to 30 inches, with the new line around 12 to 16 inches, said Steve Greig, director of government affairs for the company.
The application for the new pipeline was completed last year. Once an environmental contractor is selected next month a scoping hearing will be held.
During those hearings the public will be able to provide information to the contractor and the county about what should be studied in the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
The draft EIR/EIS documents will be released this summer. Following more public input and updates, those documents will be presented to the Santa Barbara Planning Commission for certification. The documents will then be presented to officials in San Luis Obispo and Kern counties.
Once approved, construction could begin as early as 2021. With a 12 to 24 month construction window, operations could resume in 2022, Mr. Greig said.
There will be several design changes with the new line, including the size, number of valves and the addition of pump stations. The replacement line will include 49 valves, up from 25 on the existing, and four pump stations, as opposed to two currently.
It will also include automatic shutoff valves, which will be monitored from the company’s Midland, TX. headquarters.
“Any anomalies in pressure or flow are picked up from that location and we can respond,” Mr. Greig said.
The project will add about 400 part-time construction jobs and 10 to 15 permanent jobs, officials said.
Thursday’s open house was the third such event hosted by Plains this week.
A group of Cal Poly students protested during Tuesday’s open house in Arroyo Grande, while about 30 people came to Wednesday’s event in Santa Maria, Mr. Greig said.
When asked if the company conducts this much public outreach on other projects, officials said that there are many questions locally that they hope they can address.
“This gives us a great opportunity to open our doors and to be even more transparent in the construction process,” said Brad Leone, director of communications for the company.
Would the open house be held if there was no spill?
“It’s hard to respond to what ifs” Mr. Leone said.
“All we can tell you is where we are right now. Evaluating the situation it was agreed upon by all parties that the thing to do would be to move forward with a new pipeline.”