Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson and Assemblymembers Das Williams and Adam Gray led a joint informational hearing Wednesday at UCSB’s Loma Pelona Center on oil pipeline safety and optimal testing methods and frequency. They took testimonies from a panel of experts on the current pipeline safety laws, the oil industry, and the environment.
On the panel of pipeline safety law experts, State Fire Marshal Tonya Hoover described the difference between interstate and intrastate pipeline regulations — her office only regulates intrastate pipeline, which falls entirely within state borders and offshore state waters, and the federal government regulates interstate pipeline, which crosses state borders. Hoover confirmed that under SB 295, Jackson’s bill requiring the State Fire Marshal to annually inspect pipelines, her office would have the resources and ability to increase state regulation of nationally regulated pipelines.
When Williams, Chair of the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources, asked the best method to prevent pipeline corrosion, Hoover said, “Pipelines should have the appropriate testing mechanism based on that pipeline,” emphasizing there isn’t one best testing method, but that more frequent testing is important.
Matt Young, Senior Planner for Santa Barbara County Planning and Development, who agreed that testing methodology and frequency must be specific to the pipeline, briefly explained the county’s safety permitting and oversight process when a local pipeline company applies to build a project. Williams commended the county’s stricter safety regulations, but when asked whether county requirements could be implemented on a state level, Young said the county caters its approach to each specific pipeline project.
Richard Kuprewicz, President of Accufacts Inc., a pipeline safety firm in Washington state, added that no one testing method will be the end all to eliminating pipeline corrosion. He said pipelines are being improperly and infrequently tested and that potential threats to pipeline segments aren’t being properly considered. Williams expressed his frustration that pipeline operators aren’t required to submit their safety test results to the state, “it’s the operators policing themselves,” he said. Ultimately, Kuprewicz testified, “Independent confirmation of threats [to pipelines] is needed. We’re finding people missing threats that are pretty obvious.”
Opening the panel of oil industry experts, John Stoody, Vice President of Government and Public Relations at the Association of Oil Pipelines (AOPL) said his organization is working with the American Petroleum Institute (API) to improve “pipeline inspection technologies, leak detection capabilities, safety culture and management systems, and emergency response capabilities.”
Stoody said that liquid oil pipeline operators spent $2.2 billion last year inspecting and maintaining their lines. But when Jackson asked him the gross proceeds of the oil pipelining business and whether AOPL would be willing to make public the testing data it gathers, he didn’t answer either question directly. Stoody said his organization has so much testing data that to make it visible would overburden Hoover’s office.
Manny Cortez, Vice President of Pipelines at Phillips 66, testified that his company is committed to its core values of “safety, honor, and commitment” and innovative testing technology. When Jackson asked Cortez why his company is pushing so hard to transport oil by train and by rail after studies show transportation by pipeline is the safest, Cortez said, “I am not an expert in that particular entity;” he would direct her question to someone else at his company.
Representing oil and gas industries, Rock Zierman, CEO of California Independent Petroleum Association (CIPA), said CIPA has already discussed improvements to pipeline safety regulations with Jackson. Because the hearing was running behind schedule, Zierman wasn’t specifically asked questions. Instead Assemblymember Gray, who chairs the Assembly Committee on Government Organization, asked all oil industry panelists what simple steps legislators might take to become more informed on testing technology, to which Stoody encouraged them to look at PHMSA’s federal regulations underway; Cortez and Zierman seconded.
Environmentalist panelist Linda Krop, Chief Counsel at the Environmental Defense Center (EDC), said after the Refugio Oil Spill, the EDC submitted a letter to PHMSA asking them to inspect lines 901 and 903 annually, study appropriate testing methods and frequency, post in-line inspection reviews online, and make sure lines are equip with leak detection and automatic shut off valves.
Goleta resident Katie Davis, Chair of the Santa Barbara Sierra Club, emphasized, “You can’t completely clean up an offshore oil spill, you collect maybe 20 percent of what was spilled,” and the rest seeps into the environment, affecting humans and land animals as well. She supported transitioning to clean energy sources and increasing the consequences for oil spills.
In public comment, community member Joe Armendariz, Executive Director of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association, said the county has lost “$12.1 million in property taxes” by denying ExxonMobil’s emergency trucking permit. He believes local government should form “strategic partnerships” with the oil industry to maximize the county’s revenue.
Bob Poole, Vice President of the Western States Petroleum Association, said it’s important to get pipelines operating safely again so California can rely less on importing foreign oil. Dr. Linda Phillips reminded legislators of gas pipeline explosions, and said she believes prevention is the best way to prevent both oil and gas spills.
Wendy Motta, who spoke on behalf of Congresswoman Lois Capps, said PHMSA’s draft pipeline safety rule doesn’t go far enough, and that Capps encourages all to review it and comment on it by the January 8 deadline.
Goleta Councilmember Michael Bennett, who was Fire Marshal when the Plains All American Pipeline was being laid, said we technically don’t have any interstate pipelines. “If they were all local state pipelines, we would solve our problems,” Bennett said.
UCSB Chancellor Yang, who briefly spoke about oil spills’ impact on the local community, and Carpinteria Vice Mayor Mike Shaw were also in attendance.