A pipeline in Santa Barbara has now leaked an estimated 105,000 gallons of crude since rupturing Tuesday, causing an oil slick 9 miles long off California’s coast.
The timing is noteworthy: Exactly one year ago, a pipeline owned by the same company responsible for the Santa Barbara one, Houston-based Plains All American, broke down, causing “a geyser of oil” totalling approximately 10,000 gallons to spray onto buildings and into the streets in Glendale, the Associated Press reported at the time. At least two people were sent to the hospital.
"When I opened, the smell of oil in my showroom was really bad," a local carpet business owner told USA Today in May 2014. "I still smell the fumes (hours later)."
Nor is Tuesday’s incident the first Plains-related one in California: Just two weeks ago, the EPA found Plains had failed to obtain proper permission to operate a new oil rail terminal. A pending lawsuit alleges the company worked with the local air authority to minimize public scrutiny of the project, according to a report from the Bakersfield Californian.
"This terminal wreaks havoc on our region's already compromised air quality and our communities now fear the risk of exploding trains," Gordon Nipp, vice chairman of the Sierra Club's Kern-Kaweah Chapter, said in a statement.
Plains also had to pay a settlement of $1.1 million on behalf of a company they bought that had discharged more than 100,000 gallons (3,400 barrels) of crude into Pyramid Lake, a recreational area a half-hour north of downtown. The spill occurred before the purchase occurred.
In general, Plains American’s record is not good. According to the LA Times,
just four pipeline operators have racked up more infractions since 2006. They have at least 10 serious spills in four states, and had to pay a $3.25 million fine in 2010 for violating the Clean Water Act, according to station KEYT.
Plains did not return a call requesting comment. It has told the L.A. Times the pipeline in Santa Barbara was inspected just two weeks ago. It has helped set up a website dedicated to updating its response to the incident.
“Plains All-American Pipeline… is working closely with the responding agencies which include the Coast Guard, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Santa Barbara Office of Emergency Management,” it says. “More than 272 responders are taking part in the cleanup effort and more personnel enroute.”
ABC News says it is too early to assess the environmental damage so far. But David Manthos of SkyTruth, an environmental watchdog group, says it could be substantial, because it is so concentrated.
“With thick crude coating the beaches and wildlife, this disaster clearly exceeds the natural environment's ability to cope.”
For what it’s worth, the amount spilled pales in comparison to the worst offshore incidents, especially compared with the BP oil spill:
And here's the same chart without BP:
Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.