As over 2,500 barrels of crude oil spilled across the pristine beaches of Santa Barbara’s Refugio Beach and beautiful coastline into the Pacific last week, California is reminded that oil and water most definitely do not mix.
Causing heavy oil slicks that stretched over 9 miles along the coast from the ruptured Plains All American pipeline, experts are still tallying up full damage and environmental impact of what the EPA calls the worst California spill in over 25 years. Beaches as far south as Hermosa Beach have now been closed for cleanup due to oil blobs that have washed ashore.
According to governmental federal records, Texas-based Plains Pipeline, who own and operate the pipeline, has been sighted with over 175 safety and maintenance infractions since 2006. The company, which both transports and stores crude oil, is part of parent company Plains All American Pipeline, which owns and operates nearly 18,000 miles of pipe networks in several states throughout the country. Shockingly, data recorded by Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration shows that Plains’ rate of incidents per mile of pipe is more than three times the national average. Among more than 1,700 pipeline operators listed in the database maintained by the federal agency, only four companies reported more infractions than Plains Pipeline. Infractions named in these reports included pump failure, pipeline corrosion, equipment malfunction and operator error.
Over the last 10 years, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, has assessed over $115,600 in civil penalties, as well as being cited for failing to install equipment to prevent pipe corrosion, failing to prove it had completed repairs recommended by inspectors and failing to keep records showing inspections of “breakout tanks,” used to ease pressure surges in pipelines. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also cited the company for violating the Clean Air Act at a storage facility in Kern County. The agency said the company did not obtain the appropriate permits and equipment. That enforcement notice was sent several weeks ago.
And while none of these infractions to date has resulted in documented injuries, according to federal records, since 2006 the company has caused more than $23 million in property damage and spilled more than 688,000 gallons of hazardous materials.
The Environmental Impact of Profit Equals Negligence
It seems we’ve learned very little over the years, from all of the previous oil spill disasters this country’s ocean and natural environments have endured.
This latest spill, the largest to hit the ecologically sensitive Santa Barbara shoreline since the massive 1969 disaster that dumped up to 100,000 barrels into the Santa Barbara Channel, has experts fearing that the oil-soaked birds and marine animals found to date may represent only the tip of a potential devastation to ocean and coastal water habitats.
While more than 1,000 workers, including federal and state employees, and numerous concerned citizens and organizations have taken part in the cleanup and working hard to save the lives of distressed animals, the full extent of the toll on wildlife has not been determined. Two state beaches were closed indefinitely, along with fishing in the area in order to continue cleanup efforts.
Companies like Plains All American, with a reported $43 billion in revenue in 2014 and $878 million in profit, seem to cut all the wrong corners to up their profit margins. Employees and pipeline workers are often not well trained, aging pipelines are not being replaced or well maintained, and while we might in California feel strongly that renewable energy is the answer and getting off the oil-dependent lifestyle is the way to go, the majority of Southern Californians aren’t willing to give up their car-centric lifestyles. We’re making some progress, but is it enough to save us? What impacts our environment impacts us…it damages our health, attacks our food sources, and puts stress on our already overtaxed natural resources.
Despite the EPA’s hand-slapping and government mandates to make companies responsible for “cleanup”, it is obvious we need much more to combat this profit vs. negligent corporate operating practice. True accountability must go hand in hand with real change in the way we move forward. We must continue to wean ourselves off of oil dependency, ensure the companies responsible for providing that oil and its delivery maintain sound structures and improve ways to avoid future environmental impact, and ban the practice of offshore drilling expansion that could greatly damage our precious ocean resources further. Conservation groups like the Center for Biological Diversity have urged California regulators to reject a proposed expansion of the only offshore drilling operation still permitted in state waters along the Santa Barbara coastline. They have brought to the attention of the public that Venoco Inc. is seeking permission to drill on 3,400 acres of the sea floor within the boundaries of a state-designated coastal sanctuary adjacent to the company’s current offshore lease site. Their plan would increase petroleum production by 6,400 barrels a day, but put the ocean environment and indeed the whole coastline at risk. It is a risk we cannot afford.
As if that isn’t bad enough, the petroleum from the Venoco rig is ultimately is added to refinery-bound supplies that get pumped through the failed 28-year-old transmission line owned by Plains All American Pipeline.
“It would be a grave mistake for the state to approve a project that will feed more crude into a pipeline system that just spewed thousands of gallons of oil into the Pacific,” said Miyoko Sakashita, the Center for Biological Diversity’s oceans program director. And indeed, Californians should be outraged that this proposal is even being considered.
We have already seen the first wildlife victims of this current spill. What will it take to wake up?
As the oil continues to ooze its way along our SoCal coastline, lumps of the viscous black sludge are becoming wedged in the kelp forests, trapped in the rocky nooks of tidal pools, and enveloping countless fish and crustaceans. We’ve seen the pictures of sludge covered sea lions and pelicans that dove in dead first to catch fish for food washing up on beaches doused in black oil. And scientists are now counting the numbers of dolphins that have turned up sick or dead with signs of petroleum exposure. These are the children of our planet and they are screaming loud and clear that if we do not change our ways, all we love will be gone and we will be the next to perish in the disasters we create.
It is up to us to change things.
How You Can Help
If you want to help here are a few ways you can get involved:
Many agencies are now accepting applications from the public to get trained this week and volunteer to help clean up the oil spill.
• Members of the public can now register online through the CA Wildlife Department for volunteer training sessions to help with the cleanup as long as they in good health and at least 18 years old –
• California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife Office of Spill Prevention and Response is also looking for volunteers with a range of skills, including animal care, data entry, logistics, and construction.
You can see more at: https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/OSPR
• The National Wildlife Federation also accepts Volunteers.
In addition, you can also get involved with a number of great organizations and groups including Heal The Bay: www.healthebay.org
You can volunteer your time or donate.
There are a wide variety of political activist groups as well, too numerous to mention here, but a simple search will send you in the right direction. It is up to YOU, up to us ALL to change this world for the better. The time to start is NOW!