By Doug Porter
While clean up crews in protective suits are removing oil from a nine mile stretch of coastline in Santa Barbara County, investigators are assessing the impact and causes of a ruptured pipeline owned by Plains Pipeline. The company failed to shut down the flow of oil for more than three hours after local beach-goers reported the leak, according to a spokesperson with the National Resources Defense Council.
Current estimates say 105,000 gallons may have leaked out, with 21,000 gallons reaching the sea. Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency in Santa Barbara County. Federal, state and local officials are looking at both civil liabilities and criminal infractions.
And–surprise!–the Los Angeles Times reports the company responsible has one of the highest rates of infractions (#4) out of the more than 1,700 pipeline operators listed in a database maintained by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Federal records researched by the Times indicate Plains Pipeline has accumulated 175 safety and maintenance infractions since 2006.
From the Times:
Over the last 10 years, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which is part of the Department of Transportation, has assessed $115,600 in civil penalties against the company for violations that include failing to maintain adequate firefighting gear and relying on local volunteer fire departments.
Plains Pipeline has also been cited for failing to install equipment to prevent pipe corrosion, failing to prove it had completed repairs recommended by inspectors and failing to keep records showing inspections of “breakout tanks,” used to ease pressure surges in pipelines.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cited the company for violating the Clean Air Act at a storage facility near Taft, in Kern County. The agency said the company did not obtain the appropriate permits and equipment. That enforcement notice was sent 2 1/2 weeks ago.
Coverage at Al Jazeera also paints a picture of a company with a poor track record.
In 2014 a Plains pipeline ruptured in Los Angeles’ Atwater Village, sending more than 18,000 gallons of crude running through the city’s streets. Toxic fumes were reported in the industrial area for days after the spill.
The company has been cited for 10 oil spills that violated the Clean Water Act in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Kansas. In 2010, Plains settled with the EPA after agreeing to pay $3.2 million in civil penalties.
In April 2011 a pipeline operated by the company’s Canadian branch, Plains Midstream Canada, ruptured in a remote area of Alberta’s boreal forest, releasing at least 37,000 barrels of crude oil. The same line ruptured in 2006, spilling about 180 barrels.
In a 2012 spill, a smaller line operated by Plains Midstream Canada ruptured, spilling 2,900 barrels of crude into the Red Deer River in central Alberta. The company was ordered in January to hire a third party to audit its pipelines in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario after regulators said the company failed to comply with previous safety directives…
…Plains’ recent pipeline ruptures come amid increasing pipeline accidents across the U.S. involving different operators, government data show.
There were 704 oil and gas pipeline incidents involving leaks or emergency shutdowns to avoid accidents in 2014, according to data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), a branch of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
That averages nearly two spills every day last year in the United States.
The Christian Science Monitor has coverage about the future implications of this environmental disaster:
Environmental groups are pointing to an oil spill near Santa Barbara, Calif., to highlight what they say are the dangers of expanding tar sands oil production 10-fold during the next decade, which would result in transporting large volumes of oil along the California coast…
…While the Santa Barbara crude oil spilled is not from tar sands, much of the transport of tar sands would be via pipelines like Plains All American Line 63, which ruptured Tuesday, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“What we are seeing with this spill highlights the risks of this new expansion,” says Anthony Swift, an NRDC staff attorney, suggesting that tar sand oil is the most devastating to the environment.
Balboa Centennial Report: Nothing to See Here, Folks, Move Along
The San Diego County Grand Jury issued its report on the centennial celebration for Balboa Park’s 1915 exposition yesterday.
Nearly $3 million in public funding was wasted by Balboa Park Celebration Inc., the nonprofit created under former Mayor Jerry Sanders and staffed by some of his top aides. The group dissolved last year following news accounts about its failure to put together an actual plan for the envisioned year long event.
The grand jury report said a lack of leadership and skills combined with mismanagement was responsible for for its failure.
From UT-San Diego:
The grand jury report uses phrases such as “lack of expertise,” “confusion” and “no one was responsible,” and it includes numerous recommendations to help make sure mistakes committed by the event organizers are not repeated.
The jurors, who serve a civic accountability function, recommended that the mayor make sure future contracts have specific objectives and are monitored closely. They also said the City Council should convene a special presentation to review the City Auditor’s separate report on what went wrong.
“In open session, the City Council should discuss how major undertakings in the future would proceed with lessons learned in the face of the BPCI experience,” the grand jury said.
A spokeswoman for Council President Sherri Lightner said she does not support discussing the audit in a public meeting.
A Billion Dollar Stadium Deal
Liam Dillon at Voice of San Diego crunched the numbers on the latest proposal for a new football stadium and concluded the real cost to taxpayers would be in the neighborhood of one billion dollars.
Supporters of the current plan are doing their best to kill Dillon’s analysis with a thousand cuts, both in the comments associated with the story and on social media. While it’s possible to quibble about the details, the overarching argument about the true costs of a stadium being greater than advertised is solid. And that’s before considering the numerous studies by economists from a variety of perspectives agreeing that stadiums are a bad deal for taxpayers.
Taxpayers: Give ‘till It Hurts
Meanwhile, over at UT-San Diego, the stadium headline du jour reads “Stadium Bids’ Public Funds Could Be Key – Taxpayer support can help sway NFL owners.”
A strong showing of public funds, though, can be persuasive to NFL owners, who will ultimately have a say in whether the Chargers, Rams and Raiders relocate, recognizing that the league will never agree to more than two football teams making their home in L.A., said David Carter, executive director of USC’s Sports Business Institute.
“The NFL and team owners like this combination of public money, the contribution of the team, payments made by fans and the income they can bring in from naming rights,” Carter said. “If you look at those categories, what Inglewood and Carson are lacking is a substantial public-sector investment. While there is a downside of having two teams in the same venue (as in the L.A.-area options), it’s also incredibly expensive to build a stadium, so with two teams, all of a sudden you’ve doubled the number of marquee events, an incredible plus.”
At the NFL Owners Meeting…
From the Los Angeles Times:
Los Angeles will be considered a potential host city for Super Bowl LIV in 2020 – provided the market has at least one NFL team by then, The Times has learned.
NFL owners are in San Francisco for their annual meetings, and heard Wednesday morning from team owners backing stadium proposals in Inglewood and Carson.
The league will vote by next May on which city will play host to that game, and the decision partly hinges on who hosts the Super Bowl before it.
News From the Fight for Fifteen
The McDonalds’ Board of Directors, meeting this week in Oak Brook, Illinois are, we’re told, busy debating a change to how board members are elected. That’s merely conjecture, since the company has banished media from this year’s meeting.
Slumping sales and a nosedive in public perception of the company are major concerns, and apparently management thinks that re-arranging the deck chairs in first class will solve the problem.
Meanwhile, hundreds of fast food workers from around the company have gathered outside the corporate doors, bearing a petition with 1.4 million signatures demanding a $15 per hour wage and the opportunity to organize.
From the BBC:
Lawrence Yancy, a lifelong Chicagoan, has worked in fast food since he graduated high school in 1989, after which he got a job at Wendy’s.
He is just one of many workers here who are frustrated with the gap between how much McDonald’s executives are paid versus the restaurant employees.
“I’m tired of struggling all the time,” he told the BBC during a break from the protests at his small and slightly run-down one bedroom apartment in the Kimball neighbourhood.
The area is close to Hyde Park, near where US President Barack Obama lives.
He has worked as a grill cook at a Chicago McDonald’s since January 2003 and says he was inspired to join the movement after labour organisers visited his store last year as part of an effort by the Service Employees International Union to get fast food workers to join a union.
Here in California, the state restaurant association is busy insulting the intelligence of Sacramento legislators:
Sending ignorant & offensive cartoons to a Legislator who represents far too many min wage workers = bad lobbying. pic.twitter.com/UShbraio3r
— Lorena Gonzalez (@LorenaSGonzalez) May 21, 2015
On This Day: 1832 – The Democratic Party held its first national convention. 1945 – The “Little Wagner Act” was signed in Hawaii, guaranteeing pineapple and sugar workers the right to bargain collectively. After negotiations failed, a successful 79-day strike shut down 33 of the territory’s 34 plantations and brought higher wages and a 40-hour week. 1969 – John Lennon and Yoko Ono began a ten-day “bed-in” in Montreal’s Queen Elizabeth Hotel.
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