On Wednesday, federal regulators reported that the pipeline responsible for spilling up to 101,000 gallons of crude oil along the Santa Barbara coast had experienced significant corrosion in several places. At the point of the pipeline rupture, more than 45 percent of the original metal had been worn away.
Richard B. Kuprewicz, a veteran pipeline investigator who was not involved in the Santa Barbara investigation, told the Los Angeles Times that the corrosion itself is not responsible for the spill. However, such corrosion needs to be handled when it is detected.
“[A] prudent operator has to stay ahead of this kind of thing,” he said. “It’s called pipeline integrity management.”
Federal inspectors discovered that the walls had lost more than half of their original thickness at three spots along the pipeline. External corrosion at these spots ranged between 54-74 percent.
Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director for the Center for Biological Diversity, told the LA Times that this new evidence “suggest[s] this pipeline was an accident waiting to happen.”
The nearly 11-mile pipeline ruptured on May 19, spilling an initial 21,000 gallons of crude oil into a culvert that overflowed into the Pacific Ocean. From there, the oil spread along the California coastline, washing up on the beaches of Santa Barbara and forcing the evacuation of San Refugio State Beach.
An estimated 101,000 gallons of crude oil is believed to have entered the Pacific waters and has thus far killed 87 birds and 53 marine mammals, according to official responders. Some 12,167 gallons of oil water and 5,000 cubic yards of oil-contaminated soil, sand and vegetation have been recovered from the site.
Not long after the spill, the Center for Biological Diversity reported that Plains Pipeline, the operators of the pipeline and a subsidiary of Plains All-American, has had 175 incidents nationwide since 2006 – most of which were oil spills.
According to the official investigation, the area where the Santa Barbara pipeline broke had been repaired at least three times since July 2012.