U.S. Federal Agency Faulted in Wake of Oil Spill

Federal Agency

WASHINGTON, DC – The acting head of the federal agency overseeing pipeline safety on Tuesday blamed bureaucratic inertia for failing to implement 4-year-old congressional mandates.

When asked for her estimate of when a report on the May 19 oil spill at Refugio State Beach would be completed, Stacy Cummings, interim executive director of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration testified that it will ‘take time’ and that expert third parties will affect the timetable.

Cummings added that Line 901, operated by Plains All American Pipeline, which ruptured, and Line 903, operated by the same company, do not have automatic shut-off systems.

Federal regulations require the company to notify the National Response Center, a clearinghouse for reports of hazardous material releases, ‘at the earliest practicable moment.’ State law requires immediate notification of a release or a threatened release.

Records filed by Santa Barbara County indicate firefighters who arrived at the scene just before noon May 19 quickly recognized some sort of leak or spill had occurred. Crude oil was gushing from a bluff like a fire hose ‘without a nozzle,’ records stated.

However, company employees at the scene did not confirm a leak until about 1:30 p.m., and it would be nearly 3 p.m. before the company would contact the response center. A federal response led by the Coast Guard was underway by then.

Plains has said it doesn’t plan to put automatic shutoff valves on Line 901, and cites oil industry research that they can cause spikes in pressure that can result in ruptures.