California Proposes Tough New Pipeline Standards After Santa Barbara Spill


California Proposes Tough New Pipeline Standards After Santa Barbara Spill

It seems California doesn't trust big oil companies which perhaps has something to do with the massive spill late last month onto Santa Barbara's pristine Refugio State Beach. In addition to being a big spill, the pipeline company was slow to react, slow to alert authorities and then lowballed the estimates until it was proven, as we covered here and here, that the spill was far worse than thought.

Two lawmakers from Santa Barbara County on Tuesday proposed legislation that would require annual inspections, quicker responses, better technology and another attempt to bar oil drilling in environmentally sensitive portions of the coast.

Four bills will be introduced by State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) and Assemblyman Das Williams (D-Santa Barbara).

“It has reminded us of just how precious our coastline and our wildlife are and how vulnerable we are to oil spills,” Jackson told reporters during a conference call.

Jackson was particularly concerned upon learning that the pipeline that broke had not been inspected for at least two years. The new measures would stipulate annual inspections. “We know that the pipeline that ruptured was not inspected frequently enough and that if it had problems [the spill] might have been prevented,” she said.

To address the six hours it took for the state to respond to the leak, the legislation will require two large oil skimming devices to be positioned along the Santa Barbara County coast and would allow local commercial fishermen to be immediately deputized to help respond to such disasters.

A further bill will put a moratorium on the use of dispersants, chemicals which are widely regarded as “toxic and ineffective,’’ until the U.S. EPA completes their study on the chemicals.

The senator and her colleagues also will push legislation for a Senate vote this Wednesday to ban offshore oil drilling in sensitive areas of northern Santa Barbara County. A similar bill did not get support last year in the Legislature amid strong oil industry opposition. The political climate may now be more favorable to pass such legislation.

Assemblyman Williams, noting the ruptured pipeline did not have an automatic shutoff valve, said he will introduce legislation to require pipeline companies to use the best technology available in environmentally sensitive areas.

“I’m deeply saddened and angered to see one of California's most beloved beaches and campgrounds closed,” he said.

Overall it appears, like many oil spills, that the situation was entirely preventable but was not stopped because of cost control measures which resulted in lax safety standards.

As America considers large pipelines like Keystone XL, the legislation may serve as a framework for how pipelines must be operated, at least in environmentally sensitive areas.

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