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California Lawmakers Lash Out at Plains Pipeline Over Spill

The safety director for Plains All American Pipeline was in the hot seat Friday during a joint California legislative committee hearing looking into the company's handling of an oil spill along Santa Barbara and other Southern California beaches May 19.

State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, whose district includes Santa Barbara and who is chair of a select committee created in the wake of the oil spill (see Shale Daily, June 1), was critical of Patrick Hodgins' responses to allegations the company failed to report the oil leak in a timely enough manner to meet state requirements.

Jackson and Das Williams, chair of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee, held a joint oversight hearing to examine the causes, responses. and impacts of the Refugio Beach spill.

The National Transportation Safety Board's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is still investigating the root causes of the pipeline failure after making a preliminary assessment about external corrosion playing a part. California Attorney General Kamala Harris' office has an ongoing investigation into possible criminal and civil violations.

State legislation on reporting pipeline leaks could be forthcoming, although none of the state legislators participating in the hearing indicated if they were taking that step. Prior to the hearing, several measures had been proposed, the most widely regarded being SB 295, which would give the state Fire Marshall powers to inspect all pipelines annually and to require hydrostatic testing of all pipes every two to three years.

Two other legislative proposals are already on the table: SB 414, to amend state oil spill response regulations; and AB 864, requiring operators in sensitive coastal marine areas to do everything possible to lessen the volumes spilled in case of oil leaks. Jackson is a co-author on both and was an original backer of SB 295.

Mark Ghilarducci, director of the Office of Emergency Services in the governor's office, told state lawmakers that Plains was late in reporting the spill. He was unclear what, if any, penalties could be leveled against Plains as a result, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.

Hodgins further frustrated Jackson and her colleagues by refusing to speculate about the role of the suspected corrosion and other issues, saying he could not discuss the topics with the PHMSA investigation still ongoing.

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