Politics

Santa Barbara oil spill company under investigation for LA crude spill

Crude oil being cleaned up on Brazil Street after an oil spill in Atwater Village on Thursday, May 15, 2014.
Crude oil being cleaned up on Brazil Street after an oil spill in Atwater Village on Thursday, May 15, 2014.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Crude oil being cleaned up on Brazil Street after an oil spill in Atwater Village on Thursday, May 15, 2014.
The Plains All American oil pipeline that released 10,000 gallons of crude oil on May 14, 2014 has been cleaned up a year later. But the owner of The Gentlemen's Club next door says his nude entertainment business has been shut down since the spill
Sharon McNary/KPCC


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Plains All American Pipeline, whose corroded underground pipe broke and covered  Santa Barbara-area beaches and animals with oil, is now in the cross-hairs of Los Angeles environmental investigators over the company's crude oil spill last year near the Los Angeles River.

City Attorney Mike Feuer's spokesman, Rob Wilcox said, his office is investigating the spill from one of the company's pipes on San Fernando Road in a business zone of Atwater Village. He declined to provide further details.

The company's accident report to the U.S. Department of Transportation, which regulates pipelines, describes the cause of the spill. It said metal fatigue in screws on a pump valve manufactured in 2008 failed and caused the leak.

A representative of Plains All American did not respond to calls and emails Friday asking about the investigation and accident report. The company's own investigation concluded that no errors of its control room staff or operators  contributed to the spill.

Belated response

The company had computer and leak detection systems installed at the San Fernando Road pump site, but neither helped Plains learn about the oil spewing out of control from the malfunctioning valve, the report said. 

A call from the public first notified the company that it had a problem. The company realized it had a spill 13 minutes after midnight on May 15, 2014, but that the company own responders were did not arrive for more than two hours after that, the report said.

Some 14,000 gallons of oil flowed off the pump property and pooled  in the street. It showered down onto The Gentlemen's Club next door to the pump parcel. That business remains closed more than a year later. The club said it laid off 50 employees.

The failed pump, located behind beige fencing in the 5200 block of San Fernando Road, was shut down for about two days after the spill.

Plains reported that although the spill occurred in an area where it could have harmed people, water or wildlife -- they call it a high consequence area -- the water and wildlife were not affected. However, soil was contaminated.

The company said it paid about $75,000 for environmental remediation.  It said it planned a long term assessment of the damage, but expected no further remediation would be needed.

Overall, Plains All American estimates the leak cost just over $3 million, about half in damage to property the company does not own, and about half for emergency response. The company's own property loss was about $200,000, it reported.

The report said there were no injuries, although news reports said several people were sickened from the oil. The report gives no response to a question asking how many people were evacuated from the area.

The California state Fire Marshals' office is about a month away from releasing its final report on the Atwater Village spill, said Pipeline Safety Division Chief Bob Gorham. He declined to describe its findings.