Tag Archives: U.S. Coast Guard

How industrial hygienists anticipate, recognize, and respond to rail emergencies

From Occupational Health & Safety OHSonline
[Editor:   Most significant: “The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration recently released a web-accessible Transportation Rail Incident Preparedness and Response training resource.”  – RS

How Industrial Hygienists Assist in Rail Emergencies

Speaking at an AIHce 2016 session, several experts said industrial hygienists are well suited to anticipate, recognize, and respond to the hazards and to control the risks using science-based methods.
By Jerry Laws, Jul 01, 2016

All hazardous material railcarsIndustrial hygienists are well prepared to perform an important role during the response to a railroad hazardous materials emergency, several experienced experts said during an AIHce 2016 session about rail crude oil spills on May 24. Risk assessment, data analysis, and plan preparation (such as the health and safety plan, respiratory protection plan, and air monitoring plan) are important early in the response to such emergency incidents, and CIHs are equipped to do all of these, they stressed.

“With our knowledge, skills, and abilities, the training and education that industrial hygienists get, we’re well prepared” to interpret data on the scope and nature of a hazmat spill following a derailment, said Billy Bullock, CIH, CSP, FAIHA, director of industrial hygiene with CSX Transportation. He mentioned several new roles the industrial hygienist can manage in such a situation: health and safety plan preparation, town hall meetings to inform the public, preparing news releases for area news media, interpreting data from air monitoring, working with the local health department, and serving as the liaison with area hospitals, which can improve their treatment of patients affected by the spill if they understand where exposures really are happening and where a gas plume from the spilled crude is moving, he said.

Bullock said the industrial hygienist’s role is primarily in evaluating chemical exposures:

    • assessing the risk for inhalation hazards
    • supporting operational decisions
    • gathering valid scientific information
    • managing data and ensuring data quality reporting and recordkeeping

“All of these things we do as part of our day job transfer to an emergency situation very, very well,” he said, explaining that it’s very important to gain the trust of local responders and officials, including fire department leaders, hazardous materials response teams, the health department, and city officials.

Another speaker, Laura Weems, CIH, CSP, CHMM, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Little Rock, Ark., agreed, saying industrial hygienists are well suited to anticipate, recognize, and respond to hazards and to control risks using science-based methods.

Cleanup Workers Face Inhalation, Fire, and Heat Stress Hazards

Scott Skelton, MS, CIH, senior industrial hygienist for CTEH, the Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health, LLC, and other speakers explained that the hazard assessment following a hazmat derailment begins by identifying the type of crude oil that has spilled. It’s critical to know its flammability and the status of the oil’s containment, he said, and if there is an active fire, officials in command of the response will have to decide whether cleanup personnel are wearing flame-resistant clothing or chemical-protective apparel and will default to protecting against the greater hazard, he explained.

Benzene exposure—a dermal and inhalation hazard—is a concern in the early hours of a crude oil spill following the derailment, Skelton said. He discussed a 2015 test spill into a tank measuring 100 feet by 65 feet, where the benzene was completely lost and other lighter compounds also were lost 24 hours after the spill occurred. But that type of large surface area for a crude oil spill is not typical at actual derailments, he said. Still, he said the inhalation risk for cleanup workers is of most concern during the initial 24 hours of a spill.

“It’s my opinion that heat stress is the most dangerous aspect,” Skelton said. “With these [cleanup] guys, heat stress risk is extraordinary.” The American Petroleum Institute (API)’s report on PPE use by workers involved in the cleanup of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill confirmed this, he added.

Patrick Brady, CIH, CSP, general director of hazardous materials safety for BNSF Railway Company, pointed out that crude oil spills from derailments are rare: 99.998 percent of the 1.7 million hazardous materials shipments moved by the railroad during 2015 were completed without an accidental release, he said.

Brady said the railroad pre-positions 253 first responders along with needed cleanup equipment at 60 locations along its rail network. “The best case planning for us is we don’t rely on any local resources to be there at all,” he said, so BNSF hires hazmat contractors for crude oil derailment response and brings in consultants from CTEH to interpret monitoring data. (Responding to a question from someone in the session’s audience, he touted the AskRail™ app, a tool that gives emergency responders information about the hazardous materials inside a railcar or the contents being transported on an entire train. http://www.askrail.us/)

Dyron Hamlin, MS, PE, a chemical engineer with GHD, said hydrogen sulfide is the primary acute hazard faced by responders after a spill occurs. While an H2S concentration below 50 ppm is irritating, 50-100 ppm causes loss of the individual’s sense of smell, and 100 ppm is immediately dangerous to life and health. If the crude oil in a railcar has 1 percent sulfur in the liquid, GHD personnel typically measure 300 ppm of H2S in the headspace inside the railcar, Hamlin said.

Echoing Skelton’s comments, Hamlin said API found that 50 percent of the mass of typical crude oils is lost in the first 48 hours following a spill; following the Deepwater Horizon spill, the volatile organic compounds measured in the air during the response were lower than expected because of water dissolution in the Gulf of Mexico, he said.

He cautioned the audience members to keep in mind that all hazardous material railcars’ contents are mixtures, which complicates the task of calculating boiling points and other factors important to responders and cleanup workers.

DOT Helps Out PHMSA Offers Rail Incident Training Resource

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration recently released a web-accessible Transportation Rail Incident Preparedness and Response training resource, saying it gives emergency responders critical information and best practices related to rail incidents involving Hazard Class 3 Flammable Liquids, such as crude oil and ethanol. It is off-the-shelf training that is available online and can be used anywhere throughout the country.

“TRIPR is the result of a concerted effort between federal agencies and rail safety stakeholders to improve emergency response organizations’ ability to prepare for and respond to rail incidents involving a release of flammable liquids like crude oil or ethanol,” said PHMSA Administrator Marie Therese Dominguez. “We are committed to safety and providing responders with flexible, cost-effective training and resources that help them respond to hazmat incidents safely.” The resource was developed in conjunction with other public safety agencies, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Coast Guard, and EPA, in order to prepare first responders to safely manage incidents involving flammable liquids.

“Some of the most important actions we have taken during the last two years to increase the safety of transporting crude oil by rail have been providing more resources, better information, and quality training for first responders. This web-based training is another tool to help first responders in communities large and small, urban and rural, quickly and effectively respond if a derailment happens,” said FRA Administrator Sarah E. Feinberg.

The TRIPR curriculum focuses on key hazmat response functions and incorporates three animated training scenarios and introductory videos to help instructors facilitate tabletop discussions. PHMSA announced that it plans to host a series of open houses nationwide to promote the curriculum. Visit http://dothazmat.vividlms.com/tools.asp to download the TRIPR materials.

About the Author: Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.
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    U.S. Not Prepared for Tar Sands Oil Spills, National Study Finds

    Repost from Circle of Blue

    U.S. Not Prepared for Tar Sands Oil Spills, National Study Finds

    By Codi Kozacek, Circle of Blue, 10 December, 2015 16:07

    Report urges new regulations, research, and technology to respond to spills of diluted bitumen.

    China Shenzhen economic development office park economy Guangdong Province
    Oil gathers in a sheen near the banks of the Kalamazoo River more than a week after a spill of crude oil, including tar sands oil, from Enbridge Inc.’s Line 6B pipeline in 2010. It was the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history. Click image to enlarge. Photo courtesy Sam LaSusa

    Spills of heavy crude oil from western Canada’s tar sands are more difficult to clean up than other types of conventional oil, particularly if the spill occurs in water, a new study by a high-level committee of experts found. Moreover, current regulations governing emergency response plans for oil spills in the United States are inadequate to address spills of tar sands oil.

    The study by the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine confirmed what scientists, emergency responders, and conservationists knew anecdotally from a major oil spill that contaminated Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in 2010 and another spill in Mayflower, Arkansas in 2013. Tar sands crude, called diluted bitumen, becomes denser and stickier than other types of oil after it spills from a pipeline, sinking to the bottom of rivers, lakes, and estuaries and coating vegetation instead of floating on top of the water.


    “[Diluted bitumen] weathers to a denser material, and it’s stickier, and that’s a problem. It’s a distinct problem that makes it different from other crude.”

    –Diane McKnight, Chair 
    Committee on the Effects of Diluted Bitumen on the Environment


    “The long-term risk associated with the weathered bitumen is the potential for that [oil] becoming submerged and sinking into water bodies where it gets into the sediments,” Diane McKnight, chair of the committee that produced the study and a professor of engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder, told Circle of Blue. “And then those sediments can become resuspended and move further downstream and have consequences not only at the ecosystem level but also in terms of water supply.”
    “It weathers to a denser material, and it’s stickier, and that’s a problem. It’s a distinct problem that makes it different from other crude.” McKnight added. Weathering is what happens after oil is spilled and exposed to sunlight, water, and other elements. In order to flow through pipelines, tar sands crude oil is mixed with lighter oils, which evaporate during the weathering process. In a matter of days, what is left of the diluted bitumen can sink.

    The study’s findings come amid an expansion in unconventional fuels development and transport in North America. Over the past decade, Canada became the world’s fifth largest crude oil producer by developing the Alberta tar sands. U.S. imports of Canadian crude, much of it from tar sands, increased 58 percent over the past decade, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

    Though oil prices are at a seven-year low, and market turbulence is expected to persist for several more years, tar sands developers are working to double the current tar sands oil production — around 2.2 million barrels per day — by 2030. Pipelines to transport all of the new oil are expanding too, producing a greater risk of spills.

    China Shenzhen economic development office park economy Guangdong Province
    A sign held by a protester at a 2013 climate rally in Washington, D.C. notes the lingering difficulties associated with spills of diluted bitumen –namely that the oil can become submerged in the water. Click image to enlarge. Photo courtesy DCErica via Flickr Creative Commons

    Whether tar sands producers achieve that level of oil supply is not assured. Public pressure is mounting in Canada and the United States to rein in tar sands development due to considerable environmental damage and heavy carbon emissions. U.S. President Barack Obama last month scrapped the Keystone XL pipeline, an 800,000-barrel-per-day project to move crude oil from Canada’s tar sands to Gulf of Mexico refineries. An international movement to divest from fossil fuels and a legally binding global deal to cut carbon emissions –if it is signed in Paris– could curb demand for tar sands oil.

    The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine study adds new data to arguments made by critics of tar sands development.

    “The study really confirms a lot of the information that has been out there, there are no real surprises,” Jim Murphy, senior counsel for the National Wildlife Federation, told Circle of Blue. “You don’t want these things to be affirmed because it’s bad news for communities. But the good part about a study like this is hopefully it will prompt some action. Some folks were hiding behind the lack of a study like this, saying we don’t really know. Those excuses have gone away.”

    “The chief takeaway is that this is a different oil, it presents different challenges, and responders and regulators simply don’t have the structures in place to deal with the challenges,” he added.

    Nonetheless, energy companies are pursuing pipeline expansions, most notably in the Midwest and Great Lakes regions. Enbridge, Canada’s largest transporter of crude oil, operates a 3,000-kilometer (1,900-mile) pipeline network, known as the Lakehead System, that carries crude oil from Canada to refineries on the Great Lakes. The Lakehead system, in concert with Enbridge’s Canadian main line, is capable of transporting 2.62 million barrels of oil per day. The pipeline responsible for the 2010 oil spill in Kalamazoo was part of the Lakehead system. A link in the Lakehead system ruptured in 2010 and spilled more than 3 million liters (843,000 gallons) of tar sands oil into southern Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. It was the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history and its effects still linger because of oil that sank and is embedded in the river’s sediments.

     
    “The chief takeaway is that this is a different oil, it presents different challenges, and responders and regulators simply don’t have the structures in place to deal with the challenges.”

    –Jim Murphy, Senior Counsel
    National Wildlife Federation


    Enbridge is currently pursuing upgrades to its Alberta Clipper pipeline, which runs through Minnesota and Wisconsin, in order to boost the line’s capacity to 800,000 barrels per day from 450,000 barrels per day. A second project aims to increase the capacity of Line 61, a pipeline that runs from Wisconsin to Illinois, from 560,000 barrels per day to 1.2 million barrels per day. Opposition to the company’s operation of a pipeline that runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac, where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron join, has been especially fierce, though the line does not currently carry tar sands oil.

    “I think at the very least we should be saying no to more tar sands through the [Great Lakes] region until we get a firm handle on how to deal with the unique challenges that tar sands spills present,” Murphy said. “We should also be taking a hard look, as the president did with the Keystone XL decision, about the other negative impacts of more tar sands oil, like the consequences in Alberta with the habitat destruction there, and also the higher carbon pollution content of the fuel.”

    The National Academies study concluded that the characteristics of diluted bitumen are “highly problematic for spill response because 1) there are few effective techniques for detection, containment, and recovery of oil that is submerged in the water column, and 2) available techniques for responding to oil that has sunken to the bottom have variable effectiveness depending on the spill conditions.”

    “Broadly, regulations and agency practices do not take the unique properties of diluted bitumen into account, nor do they encourage effective planning for spills of diluted bitumen,” it continued.

    China Shenzhen economic development office park economy Guangdong Province
    A tar ball recovered on the edge of a cove in Mayflower, Arkansas, after tar sands crude spilled from ExxonMobil’s Pegasus pipeline in 2013. Click image to enlarge.

    The study’s authors made a series of recommendations to help reduce the damage from future tar sands spills, including:

    • Update regulations that would require pipeline operators to identify and provide safety sheets for each crude oil transported by the pipeline, catalogue the areas and water bodies that would be most sensitive to a diluted bitumen spill, describe how they would detect and recover sunken oil, provide samples and information about the type of oil spilled to emergency officials, and publicly report the annual volumes and types of crude oil that pass through each pipeline.
    • Require the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), the federal agency that regulates pipelines in the United States, to review spill response plans in coordination with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Coast Guard to determine if the plans are capable of responding to diluted bitumen spills.
    • Develop methods to detect, contain, and recover oil that sinks to the bottom of water bodies.
    • Require government agencies at the federal, state, and local level to use industry-standard names for crude oils when planning spill responses.
    • Revise oil classifications used by the U.S. Coast Guard to indicate that diluted bitumen can sink in water.
    • Collect data to improve modeling of diluted bitumen oil spills.
      Improve coordination between federal agencies and state and local governments when planning and practicing oil spill response exercises.
    • Develop a standard method for determining the adhesion –a measure of how sticky the oil is–of diluted bitumen in the event of a spill.

    After the study’s release, PHMSA said it would develop a bulletin advising pipeline operators about the recommendations and urge voluntary improvements to their spill response plans. The agency also plans to hold a workshop next spring to hear public input on how to implement the recommendations, coordinate with other federal organizations to “advance the recommendations”, and work with industry representatives to improve spill response planning.

    “We appreciate the work the National Academy of Sciences has done over the last few years in analyzing the risks of transporting diluted bitumen, including its effects on transmission pipelines, the environment and oil spill response activities,” Artealia Gilliard, PHMSA spokesperson and director for governmental, international and public affairs, said in a statement. “All pipelines transporting crude oil or any other hazardous liquid are required to meet strict federal safety regulations that work to prevent pipeline failures and to mitigate the consequences of pipeline failures when they occur.”


    Codi Yeager-Kozacek is a news correspondent for Circle of Blue based out of Hawaii. She co-writes The Stream, Circle of Blue’s daily digest of international water news trends. Her interests include food security, ecology and the Great Lakes.

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      Big oil slick off Santa Barbara County coast sparks new concerns

      Repost from the Los Angeles Times
      [Editor:  See also ABC News, Coast Guard Says California Oil Slick Will Vanish on Its Own.  – RS]

      Big oil slick off Santa Barbara County coast sparks new concerns

      By Javier Panzar , Joseph Serna, Matt Hamilton, July 29, 2015 10:39pm

      That greasy luster returned once again to the waters off Santa Barbara County.

      An oil slick that stretched more than 3 miles was spotted Wednesday by some kayakers, about two months after a ruptured pipeline spilled more than 21,000 gallons of crude into the ocean off this picturesque coastline.

      The sheen — no thicker than a coat of paint — did not prompt the closure of any beaches, and the U.S. Coast Guard said the oily substance would dissipate on its own.

      As Coast Guard investigators awaited lab results that may pinpoint the oil’s source, images of a shiny patch of sea and splotches of tar along these pristine shores sent a quiver of anxiety through a community that’s still recovering from the May 19 spill.

      Goleta Beach oil spill“I just hoped it wasn’t another oil spill,” said Janine Dorn, a substitute teacher who brought her black poodle, Jack, to survey Goleta Beach before sunset. The oil spill in May had her fuming, she said. “Then I see this and it’s incredible. This can’t be happening again.”

      Shortly before 11 a.m., the kayakers reported seeing the sheen about 1,000 feet off Goleta Beach, according to the county fire department. A black and brown gooey substance had coated the kayaks and the kayakers’ legs, according to photos from the fire department.

      Initially described as measuring 60 feet wide, the sheen by Wednesday evening had stretched 3.5 miles long and half a mile wide, U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Ryan Schmid said. As tides moved, the oil split into sections and covered only about one-third of the total area, he said.

      The patch was seen floating near an oil platform owned by Venoco Inc., but the company denied that its platform was involved. That platform, known as Holly, was shut down in May, a company official said. Its pipeline was flushed of any oil and refilled with seawater.

      The Coast Guard, meanwhile, said the sheen could have been an ordinary, natural seepage. At Coal Oil Point, a seep field in the Santa Barbara Channel, thousands of gallons of oil flow into the ocean each day, something residents have grown accustomed to.

      “The earth burps all the time,” said Robert Hernandez, an electrician who fishes nearly every day off the Goleta pier. “You smell it, you get a little on you. No big deal.”

      Hernandez, 60, said he has been fishing along the Central Coast since he was 15. Sheens such as those spotted Wednesday are part of life in a region where the petroleum-rich sea bed regularly emits oil and natural gas, he said, which made him question why it was newsworthy. “It cracks me up,” he said. “At first I thought there was a shark attack or something.”

      Yet environmental activist Rebecca Claassen, an organizer with Food and Water Watch, said it’s too early to minimize the sheen as a natural occurrence, saying the oil platforms that dot the county’s coastline pose a daily risk. “We can see a spill any day as long as there is drilling off shore,” she said.

      Federal officials said Wednesday’s sheen also could be a remnant of this spring’s spill, when the corroded pipe operated by Plains All American Pipeline leaked an estimated 101,000 gallons of crude along the Gaviota coast and forced a weeks-long closure of Refugio State Beach.

      The director of the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, Charlton Bonham, said Wednesday that the cleanup of the Refugio spill is ongoing, with about 14,000 gallons of oily water removed from the ocean.

      Cleanup crews have responded to reports of tar balls as far away as Orange County, and one tar ball recovered in Manhattan Beach had the same oil “DNA” as the oil spilled at Refugio, he said.

      Appearing in Sacramento before the state Ocean Protection Council, Bonham said the natural seepage in the area is challenging how his agency assesses the effectiveness of recovery efforts. “What is clean?” he told the panel. “How clean is clean?”

      As federal and state investigators await the results of laboratory tests from Wednesday’s incident, Santa Barbara County’s director of public health, Dr. Takashi Wada, said there is no immediate risk to swimmers, and the county’s beaches and fishing piers remain open.

      After swimming in the water off Goleta Beach with her friend, Anya Schmitz, 16, opined that the water was crystal clear — perfect for a summer dip.

      “Conditions are great,” she said. “Seems like a lot of hype to me.”

      Panzar reported from Goleta; Serna and Hamilton from Los Angeles. Times staff writer Phil Willon in Sacramento contributed to this report.
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        CNN: California oil spill 5x bigger than thought

        Repost from CNN
        [Editor:  One of the best reports I’ve seen.  The video has spokespeople for environmental concerns and footage of protests.  Unfortunately, CNN does not permit embedding – you will need to go to CNN and watch the commercial first.  Grrr.  – RS]

        Santa Barbara oil spill: Authorities, environmentalists step up response

        By Michael Martinez, Sara Sidner, and Faith Karimi, CNN, May 23, 2015

        California oil spill causes coastal crisis 02:15

        Santa Barbara, California (CNN)   –  Authorities have intensified their response to this week’s Santa Barbara oil spill by announcing remedies and additional investigations.

        The federal government on Friday ordered the firm, Plains All American Pipeline, to suspend operations and make safety improvements on the ruptured pipe, according to a corrective action order announced Friday by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

        The California attorney general’s office is working with local prosecutors as well as state and federal agencies in investigating Tuesday’s spill that prompted a state-issued emergency in Santa Barbara County and the closing of two state beaches until June 4.

        “California’s coastline is one of the state’s most precious natural treasures. This oil spill has scarred the scenic Santa Barbara coast, natural habitats and wildlife. My office is working closely with our state and federal partners on an investigation of this conduct to ensure we hold responsible parties accountable,” Attorney General Kamala D. Harris said.

        The cause of the oil spill remains under investigation.

        Oil company’s response

        The oil firm, Plains All American Pipeline, has been actively participating in the cleanup and daily press conferences with federal and state officials.

        “Our goal is zero (spills),” senior director Patrick Hodgins of Plains All American told reporters Friday. “Are we happy with this unfortunate event? Absolutely not.

        “We’re going to be here until it is taken care of,” Hodgins added.

        In a general statement Friday, the firm said it had “significantly increased” the size and spending of its safety program since 2008. The firm added that “releases from Plains pipelines have significantly decreased while throughput volume has increased since 2008.”

        The firm had taken measures that “exceeded the federal regulatory requirement” for the Santa Barbara pipeline that eventually ruptured this week, and had inspected it two times in the past three years.

        In fact, the pipeline was examined May 5, and investigators will be reviewing those results, officials said.

        The coastal town of Goleta on Friday declared its own state of emergency, citing the spill as an “extreme peril to the safety of persons and property.”

        Progress so far

        As the cleanup entered its fourth day on Friday, vessels were “actually doing pretty well” recovering oil from the ocean, but “the harder part” will be cleaning the land — the shoreline, the beaches, the cliffs and the hillside near U.S. Highway 101 where the pipe ruptured, said U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Jennifer Williams.

        “It could take months,” she said.

        Officials provided a tally Friday of the cleanup and environmental damage:

        • 10,000 gallons of oily water removed from the ocean;

        • 91 cubic yards of oily solids and 800 cubic yards of oily soil removed from beaches;

        • 9.5 square miles of ocean and 8.7 miles of coastline affected, from Arroyo Hondo beach to Refugio State Beach, near Goleta.

        • Three brown pelicans were killed. Six more brown pelicans, two California sea lions and an elephant seal are being rehabilitated after oil coated them. A common dolphin was found dead without oil on its exterior, but it will be examined for signs of ingested oil.

        Also called the Refugio oil spill, the incident began Tuesday when a 24-inch diameter pipeline ruptured near Goleta, California. It transports crude oil for 10.6 miles from Exxon Mobil’s breakout storage tanks in Las Flores Canyon to Plains’ pump station in Gaviota, said the federal Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

        Environmentalists denounce oil firm

        On Friday, environmentalists declared the spill “a wake-up call” on continued oil development. They urged state and federal politicians to refuse additional oil projects, especially in Santa Barbara County, and called upon the nation to usher in a “post-oil era” by embracing renewable energy.

        “When we have a huge solar spill around here, we just call it a nice day,” said Dave Davis, CEO and president of the Community Environmental Council.

        The oil spill has hurt the area’s $1.2 billion tourism economy, which employs more than 12,000 people, but tour operators such as Michael Cohen of Santa Barbara Adventure Company told potential visitors that only two state beaches are closed and other attractions remained open, including Channel Islands National Park.

        The activists noted that a 1969 spill in Santa Barbara was so catastrophic it ignited the environmental movement and a host of federal and state laws to protect the natural world.

        Putrid odor

        The onshore pipeline behind this week’s Santa Barbara oil spill leaked more than 100,000 gallons of crude on coastal lands and into the ocean, the oil company said.

        At its worst, the smell burns your nostrils and gives you a little nagging headache.

        Stones at Refugio State Beach lay splattered with a jet black tar, like goo, which can only be crude oil.

        An industrial-size trash bin of oily vegetation sits next to the beach. Bikinis and surfboards on once pristine sandy shores have been replaced with people in hazmat suits, digging in the dirt and picking up oil-laden sticks and plants.

        Among the worst violators

        The underground oil pipeline was carrying 1,300 barrels an hour, below its maximum capacity of 2,000 barrels an hour, said Rick McMichael of Plains All American Pipeline.

        Plains All American is among the worst violators listed by the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration.

        It surpassed all but four of more than 1,700 operators in safety and maintenance infractions, the federal agency said.

        Hodgins suggested the comparison wasn’t fair because “we’re also much larger than those companies that we were compared to.”

        “Most of the companies that we’re compared to have half the amount of pipelines” that Plains All American has, Hodgins said Friday. “So therefore, with double the number of miles of pipelines, unfortunately incidents have occurred, (and) the larger and the more of those can be realized.”

        The company has had 175 federal safety and maintenance violations since 2006, responsible for more than 16,000 barrels of spills that have caused more than $23 million worth of property damage.

        Plains has been committing money to safety improvements for the past seven years, said Pat Hutchins, the company’s senior director of safety.

        Plains All American Pipeline violated federal environmental violations 10 times between 2004 and 2007, when about 273,420 gallons of crude oil were discharged into waters or shorelines in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Kansas, the Environmental Protection Agency said.

        Most of the spills were caused by pipe corrosion, the EPA said.

        The oil company agreed to pay a $3.25 million civil penalty and spend $41 million to upgrade 10,420 miles (16,770 kilometers) of crude oil pipeline operated in the United States, the EPA said in 2010.

        Lobsters killed, pelicans soaked in oil

        Meanwhile, crews continued to clean beaches and coastal waters, and officials reported the leak killed an undisclosed number of lobsters, kelp bass and marine invertebrates. Six oil-soaked pelicans and one young sea lion were being rehabilitated.

        As of Thursday night, vessels had skimmed 9,500 gallons of oily water from the ocean, McMichael said.

        The cleanup could last months, officials said. For now, currents, tides and winds make the oil plume “a moving target” as it drifts offshore, said U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Jennifer Williams.

        The size of the spill, which began contaminating California’s beaches Tuesday, is equivalent to the volume of water the average American residence uses in a year.

        How it all started

        Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline estimated up to 105,000 gallons may have spilled from a broken pipe, based on the typical flow rate of oil and the elevation of the pipeline.

        Since the pipeline is underground, it will take a few days to determine how much crude oil was spilled, said McMichael, who estimated 21,000 gallons of crude had gone into the Pacific Ocean, with the rest spilled on land.

        Not the first time

        A spill in January 1969 became what was, at the time, the nation’s worst offshore oil disaster. Though this week’s spill is smaller, it still prompted California’s governor to declare a state of emergency in Santa Barbara County.

        The 1969 disaster was so catastrophic that it gave birth to an environmental movement, a host of regulations against the oil and gas industry, and a new commission to protect California’s coast, experts said.

        Santa Barbara Harbor after what was then the worst oil spill in U.S. history, in February 1969.
        Santa Barbara Harbor after what was then the worst oil spill in U.S. history, in February 1969.

        In all, about 3 million gallons of oil spewed from a Union Oil drilling rig 5 miles off the coast of nearby Summerland, California. The pipe blowout cracked the seafloor, and the oil plume killed thousands of seabirds and “innumerable fish,” according to a 2002 paper by geographers at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

        Opinion: Pipeline rupture a warning of spills to come?

        Backlash and consequences

        Subsequent U.S. oil spills were much larger, including the Exxon Valdez accident, which dumped 11 million gallons off Alaska’s shores in 1989, and the Deepwater Horizon spill, which put 210 million gallons into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

        But the 1969 Santa Barbara spill energized a movement that led to new federal and state environmental laws and helped establish the first Earth Day the next year.

        The threat

        The environment remains a major concern around Refugio State Beach, which was desolate Thursday, as were its campgrounds, which are normally packed for Memorial Day weekend. The only sounds were the waves and the helicopter above, a buzzing reminder of the oily mess below.

        How does Santa Barbara match up with other U.S. oil spills?

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