Jun 8, 2015
An underground oil pipeline ruptured near the ocean in Santa Barbara County, California on May 19. By the time firefighters stopped the flow several hours later, more than 100,000 gallons of crude oil had spilled out, about 21,000 gallons of it into the ocean.
People living in the area reported large globs of oil in the ocean and on the beach, and these were also spotted many miles to the south of the spill in the following days. Fishing is banned indefinitely in a 138-square-mile zone in the ocean.
In recent years, oil leaks have increased dramatically in the U.S. According to federal government data, the annual number of “significant accidents” on oil pipelines has increased by almost 60 per cent since 2009, reaching 120 in each of the past two years. In other words, millions of gallons of oil have been leaking into the soil and water.
It’s not surprising. While oil companies have been drilling more in recent years, they have been relying on aging and corroded pipeline networks to transport the oil. Even the simplest safety and maintenance measures are “costs” that can be cut to increase profits.
The pipeline that recently ruptured in California didn’t have an automatic shut-off valve and thus didn’t meet local safety standards. But Plains Pipeline was allowed to operate it anyway. Courts ruled that, being part of an interstate network, the pipeline would fall under federal jurisdiction – and federal regulations do not require automatic shut-off valves!
But even if the rules were stricter, companies don’t get punished when they break them. For example, the federal government has cited Plains Pipeline 175 times for safety and maintenance violations since 2006. But the total amount of fines Plains paid in that time was only about 116 thousand dollars. That’s actually an encouragement for the company to break the safety rules, considering that in 2014 alone, Plains reported a profit of 878 million dollars – more than 7,500 times the fines it paid in 10 years!
It’s a sure-fire recipe for endless pollution and a more and more poisoned world.