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Charles Kennedy

Charles Kennedy

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Latest Pipeline Spill Here Could Galvanize Environmentalist Opposition

A pipeline in California broke and spilled oil into the Pacific Ocean on May 19.

Oil washed up on the shores in Santa Barbara County with the slick extending an estimated 4 miles. While data is preliminary, the pipeline may have spilled 21,000 gallons, or 500 barrels, perhaps even more. For now, it is unclear what caused the pipeline to rupture. Related: Some Good News From This War-Torn Nation’s Oil Industry

The pipeline, owned by Plains All American Pipeline, was constructed in 1991 and has a daily throughput of about 150,000 barrels. “Plains deeply regrets this release has occurred and is making every effort to limit its environmental impact. Our focus remains on ensuring the safety of all involved. No injuries have been reported at this time,” the company said in a statement released early on May 20.

Plains All American is a midstream company that owns and operates pipelines, oil and gas storage facilities, and rail terminals. It operates several crude oil storage facilities in California along with the implicated Las Flores to Gaviota pipeline that runs through Santa Barbara County. But it has a much larger footprint in Texas and Louisiana, as well as Alberta, where it has a wider network of crude oil pipelines and storage facilities. Related: Are US Drillers Actually Making A Comeback?

Plains All American says on its website that it “committed to designing, constructing, operating, and maintaining its pipelines in a safe and reliable manner, and to meeting or exceeding safety standards.”

The oil sheen in the Pacific Ocean evokes memories of the catastrophic 1969 disaster resulting from a blowout of an offshore oil platform owned by Union Oil Company. The accident led to 3 million gallons of oil escaping into the ocean.

The incident was a momentous one as it sparked the modern environmental movement and contributed to the passage of several federal environmental laws a few years later, including the Clean Water Act. California has not allowed drilling within its maritime limits since then, and has fought drilling at the federal level as well. Related: This Innovation Will Help U.S. Companies Win The Oil Price War

The latest pipeline spill will no doubt give more ammo to pipeline opponents, perhaps rekindling arguments over the Keystone XL pipeline. But for now it is too early to tell if there will be any other policy implications.

By Charles Kennedy of Oilprice.com

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