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US regulators order pipeline testing after spill

Los Angeles: The company responsible for a pipeline that spilled thousands of gallons of oil along the California coast was ordered to take a series of steps before it can restart the line, federal regulators have said.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration required Plains All American Pipeline to remove the damaged section of pipe, test it and empty the remainder of the line.

The agency yesterday said it did not yet know the cause of the leak, which spilled up to 105,000 gallons (400,000 litres) of crude into a coastal ditch Tuesday. About a fifth of that amount is estimated to have flowed into the sea northwest of Santa Barbara.

Investigators for the agency are looking into the cause of the failure and whether there was something Plains should have known about conditions in the underground pipeline and factors that could have contributed to the accident.

The corrective action order said the 10.6-mile line had recently been inspected, but the results weren’t known. Tests of the 24-inch (60-centimetre) pipe in 2012 found 41 anomalies mostly due to external corrosion, frequently near welds, the agency said.    The company has said there were no previous problems with the pipe.

A corrective action order is issued to protect people, property and the environment. If violations are found, the agency said it would issue a strong enforcement action order.

Plains said it could take weeks or even months before investigators find what caused the disaster.

Bad weather slowed cleanup efforts early Friday at the spill site in Santa Barbara County, where gusty winds whipped up waves as high as 4 feet (1.2 meters).

Several days of calm seas had helped crews, but oil skimming vessels had to be brought to shore late Thursday, Santa Barbara news station KEYT-TV reported.

The thick, powerful-smelling crude covered rocks and sand, and six oil-coated pelicans and one juvenile sea lion had been rescued.

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