Sun 6/2: Tomorrow (Mon. June 3rd) is the deadline for comments to stop our area’s next major pipeline disaster.

Both Exxon, a company that’s been gaslighting the public on the risks of fossil fuels since 1977, and Plains Pipeline, L.P., a Texas-based oil transport and storage company who was convicted of felony charges for their mishandling of the 2015 Santa Barbara pipeline oil spill (aka Refugio Oil Spill) want us to give them a second chance. Exxon wants to re-open their three old oil platforms off our coast and Plains want to build a new 123 mile pipeline system to replace the one that leaked. With a great team like that…what could go wrong?

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is now asking for public comment on the pipeline proposal by Plains to determine relevant issues before they prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

Let’s tell the BLM EXACTLY what could go wrong…

Action – Write a comment to oppose the Plains permit for an oil pipeline in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Kern Counties! Deadline, Monday, June 3rd, 

1. Go here to comment! It will look like this…

comment instructions

  • The documents related to this issue are here.
  • BLM news release here.
  • The Federal Register notice is here.
  • The map of the proposed pipeline route is here.

Sample Comment:

  • Starter example:I’m writing to urge you to deny Plains’ oil-pipeline proposal...
  • Comment: …”because of…(One or two facts from below that particularly interest you.)
  • Ending example:To the extent that your agency is considering the application, it must prepare an environmental review that fully analyzes all the harms listed above. Any reasonable review will reveal that there’s no way to avoid these unacceptable costs and that the project must be rejected.

Facts – Pick one or more…

  • Spills have big consequences: The 2015 Plains spill released more than 142,800 gallons of crude oil into the environment, killing hundreds of birds and marine mammals.  It cost almost $100 million to clean up and scientists state that not only will it never be completely removed, it’s still causing long-term damage.
  • Harm to our public lands: A private company’s pipeline could cause harm on our public land from oil spills, air and water pollution, and threaten the habitat of endangered species and plants with little or no oversight. Under federal law, oil and gas pipelines on public lands are supposed to be inspected at least once a year, but the vast majority of pipeline inspections happen rarely, if ever. The EIS will need to address how the proposed pipeline, which involves private and state land, 6 miles of BLM-managed public land, and 6 mile of U.S. Forest Service-managed land in the Los Padres National Forest, would comply with the 1-year inspection requirement to protect our interests.
  • Water pollution: Oil spills, natural gas leaks, and other hazardous pipeline incidents have become a dangerous and unavoidable consequence of fossil fuel distribution. Pipeline spills near aquifers and waterways cause immense damage to the land and water resources that communities depend on. The pipelines in this proposal cross groundwater basins or stream valleys where shallow groundwater may occur, including “sensitive aquifers” – groundwater with known or potential use for drinking water, agriculture irrigation, or similar use. The SB County report includes “release prevention” and “post release” procedures for possible groundwater and well contamination. (This article gives a lot of great pipeline/water pollution facts.) (SB County Ground Water Protection report here.)
  • This company cannot be trusted: A jury found Plains All American guilty of a felony in failing to maintain its pipeline and criminally liable for the spill, a sentence they tried to have set aside. They are the first local oil company to be convicted of a felony.  In addition,  the company has had 239 incidents (mostly oil spills) nationwide from 2006–2017, including 20 in California. The company has been responsible for nearly $180 million in property damage from spilling more than 822,000 gallons of hazardous liquids from its pipelines. They must not be allowed another chance to cover our public lands and waters in oil.
  • Transporting oil by pipeline is dangerous: Between 1986 and 2013, there were nearly 8,000 significant incidents with U.S. pipelines that involved death, injury and economic and environmental damage. That’s more than 300 incidents per year. Federal data show that the risk of pipeline failures increases dramatically as pipelines approach 40 years old, but that new pipelines are also at high risk, mostly because of faulty design or construction. The PHMSA data indicate there are more oil spills in the first two years of pipeline’s life than in the next seven years combined.
  • California is aiming for carbon neutrality by 2045: The re-opened platforms and pipeline would worsen climate change by prolonging our dependence on fossil fuels at a time when we must transition to clean energy. This project is contrary to our recently passed Senate Bill 100, signed by Governor Brown. An EIS must address how the complete project will impact climate change and local and state goals for greenhouse gas pollution reductions.
  • We be California: Brief summary of the SB Geohazard report below. If TransCanada couldn’t keep their Keystone pipeline from leaking in flat fields in SD and ND, wait until this proposed pipeline meets one of our CA-sized earthquakes. Or landslides.
  • Air pollution/global warming: Brief summary of the SB air pollution report below. We are already starting out with bad air quality. We’re not allowing anything to make it worse. This proposal will add 18,984 metric tons a year of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Environmental: Brief summary of the SB environmental report below. Between 600 and 800 oaks will be removed as they scrape out a new pathway for the proposed pipelines, along with habitat damage and harm to endangered species.
  • Pipelines threaten our economy: The inevitable spills will affect our economy and tourism. The estimate of $74 million financial impact over three years to the county includes approximately $37 million in lost property taxes, $32 million in lessened worker income and $5 million in reduced federal royalties.
  • Oil spill cleanup is hazardous too: Cleanup workers for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Gulf spill and local residents are being studied for health effects of oil spill exposure. There appears to be immediate as well as significant long-term negative health effects.
  • A pipeline implies the old platforms are back: The proposed EIS will have to add in the impacts and risks posed by the Exxon platforms as well from the pipeline itself. These include an increased risk of oil spills and ship strikes and increased water, air and noise pollution.
  • Other studies you can ask the BLM for: Noise.  Fire Protection


Last time we talked about this, we were asking people to attend a Santa Barbara Planning Committee meeting to stop Exxon from re-opening three old oil platforms off our coastline and instituting a nightmarish crude-oil trucking scheme until a new pipeline system replaced the one that caused the disastrous 2015 Plains Pipeline oil spill.

The 2015 Refugio spill, linked to the deaths of hundreds of sea birds and marine mammals, occurred after a corroded underground pipeline ruptured along a coastal highway west of Santa Barbara on May 19, 2015, sending 142,800 gallons of crude oil onto the shore of Refugio State Beach and into the Pacific. A grand jury indicted Plains All American Pipeline on 46 criminal charges and a California jury found the company guilty of felony charges of fouling state waters and harming wildlife. The U.S. Transportation Department report concluded a year after the spill that numerous lapses in safety measures, judgment and planning by Plains led to and worsened the disaster. They were ultimately fined only $3.3 million out of the $1.2 billion asked for.

Now Plains All American Pipeline is back with a proposal to replace the damaged line and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is asking for comments. The company has applied to build a new 123 mile long oil pipeline system along the same route as the old one. The system would be composed of two pipelines – lines 901R and 903R (R = replacement). Line 901R would follow the same route as the old 901, while 903 would carry the oil from Sisquoc to Pentland Delivery Point in Kern County.

(View all the impact reports on the SB County Project page here.)

What could go wrong?…Wait…Aren’t we in California?

earthquake faults

(From SB County – Full Geohazard Report from Rincon Consultants, Inc. here.)

  • Earthquake faults: According to the Geologic Survey, the pipeline will cross 10 different seismic fault lines and is within the San Andreas Fault Zone. (Page 8Portions of the pipeline could be subject to intense seismic shaking, and some areas could experience ground rupture in the event of a significant earthquake. Rincon Consultants recommends automatic shut-off valves. Note: The Associated Press reported that Plains had assured the government in filings that a break in their old line (the one that broke) was “extremely unlikely” and state-of-the-art monitoring could quickly detect possible leaks and alert operators.
  • Liquefaction risks: (What is liquefaction?) The 901R pipeline will cross areas identified as having moderate liquefaction potential in low-lying coastal plains and valley bottoms (pg. 10). 903R will be installed in areas having high potential, such as near Buellton adjacent to the Santa Ynez River, and and area between San Luis Obispo and Kern counties, near the Cuyama River.
  • Landslides: The pipelines cross steep terrain and in some areas are underlain by formations noted to be susceptible to slumps and landslides, therefore, landslides are considered a potential geologic hazard. (pg.13)
  • Highly Erodible Soils: Approximately 5.5miles (4.4%) of the pipeline alignment are underlain by soils with K factors greater than 0.4, which are defined as “highly erodible.” (pg. 19)
  • Expansive and Collapsible Soils: Expansive soils contain clay minerals which expand when an increase in moisture occurs and tend to shrink and crack when dry. According to the Santa Barbara County Seismic Safety and Safety Element expansive soils may be widespread throughout the county. Approximately 33.02 miles (27%) of the pipeline are underlain by these formations.  (pg. 20)
  • Scour Hazard at major creek corridors: Numerous drainages cross the pipeline alignment. These drainage features represent potential scour hazards which could expose the buried pipeline. (pg. 21
  • Dam inundation: The Bradbury Dam on Lake Cachuma in Santa Barbara County was the only major dam identified as posing a potential inundation hazard along the pipeline alignment. In the event of a catastrophic dam failure, flood waters would flow along the Santa Ynez River and inundate portions of the pipeline alignment near the City of Buellton. The pipeline alignment intersects the dam inundation area from for a distance of approximately 1.9 miles, or 1.5% of the pipeline.
  • Keep your fingers crossed: The consultants stated: It will be necessary to implement numerous special construction techniques to minimize the threat posed by the potential geologic hazards and enhance the safety and stability of replacement pipelines 901R and 903R.”

hazard summary

Ecological Resources assessment (or…what’s 600-800 oak trees between friends?)

disturbance section

(From SB County – Full report here) The SB Independent reported that the new system will involve “bulldozing a 100-foot corridor along the entire route, denuding hundreds of acres of land, crossing three rivers and three counties, crossing over the San Andreas Fault, and enabling Exxon’s offshore production for decades to come — beyond the 2045 date by which California hopes to be carbon neutral.” A permanent 50′ wide “maintainance corridor” will be maintained for vehicle access. (pg. 6)  Mapping data indicates that between 635-879 oak trees could be removed or impacted by project. As they will not be replanted, this is considered a significant impact. (pg 76) Some endangered species would be scheduled for “relocation.” Mitigation, including nest avoidance and disturbance to special-status wildlife would be required to avoid significant damage findings.

Additionally, long-term loss of habitat will occur as a result of grading and access at permanent facilities, such as at 41 independent valve locations (3.72 acres for new access road grading at 25 locations, 4.12 acres for 38 of 41 valve stations), the expansion of the existing Sisquoc Pump Station (7.14 acres), and the construction of a new Russell Ranch Pump Station (1.13 acres) in the Cuyama Valley.

Air quality

(From SB County – Full report here.) First, check out the results for air quality in SB and Ventura.  SB gets a “D” for ozone, and an “F” for particulates. (Ventura gets double “F”s!). This project will add 18,984 metric tons a year of greenhouse gas emissions with an additional 5,376 metric tons a year of “indirect emissions” from electrically driven pumps.

Santa Barbara County’s threshold of significance for GHG emissions is 1,000 metric tonnes (MT) per year.

air quality emissions

There is no such thing as a “spill-proof pipeline, no matter what the company promises… 

Article here. The time-lapse video shows pipeline incidents from 1986 to 2013, relying on publicly available data from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Only incidents classified as “significant” by the agency are shown in the video. “Significant” incidents include those in which someone was hospitalized or killed, damages amounted to more than $50,000, more than 5 barrels of highly volatile substances or 50 barrels of other liquid were released, or where the liquid exploded or burned.

The video ends with a plea to block construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. The original Keystone pipeline, owned by TransCanada, has had 3 major spills since it started operating in 2010. The biggest spills include a 5,000 barrel spill in Marshall County, SD and 400 barrel spills in both Hutchinson County, SD and Sargent County, ND in 2011, despite the company’s claims that  the chance of a leak of more than 50 barrels to be “not more than once every seven to 11 years over the entire length of the pipeline in the United States” and in South Dakota, the estimate was for a “spill no more than once every 41 years.

In February 2019, a federal judge in Nebraska blocked the Keystone XL pipeline, and at the end of March 29, Trump issued a presidential memorandum to push the oil pipeline through despite the court ruling.

Reading – Resources

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