PHMSA Cites External Corrosion as Cause of Santa Barbara Spill

April 2016, Vol. 243, No. 4

External corrosion on a pipeline pumping crude was the root cause of the rupture last May that spilled over 140,000 gallons of oil on the Santa Barbara coast, federal regulators reported. The spill occurred after pumps on the Plains All American Pipeline were shut down and restarted, sending a larger volume of oil surging through the 2-foot pipe at higher pressure, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said in preliminary findings.

Reports of corrosion on the pipe and mention of the pump shutdown were not new, but regulators hadn’t previously announced the cause or the precise moment of the spill. The agency will issue a final report this spring. The spill two weeks before the Memorial Day weekend forced the state to close popular beaches as the oil fouled a pristine stretch of coastline and an oil sheen spread over miles of the Pacific Ocean. Over 300 dead animals were recovered after the spill that sent tar balls drifting over 100 miles away to Los Angeles beaches. The spill remains under investigation by local, state and federal prosecutors. Federal regulators could issue fines against the Houston-based company.

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