Oil demand and climate change clash with California pipeline project | WIVT

LOS ANGELES (AP) – A proposal to replace an oil pipeline that was closed in 2015 after causing California’s worst coastal spill in 25 years is under government scrutiny even as the state prepares to ban gasoline vehicles and oil drilling.

Review of Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline’s $ 300 million proposal is slated to enter a critical phase next year as a new review is placed on the state’s oil industry after the rupture of an offshore pipeline in October near Huntington Beach. This rupture released at least 25,000 gallons (94,635 liters) of crude which closed beaches and wreaked havoc on marine life along one of the world’s legendary surf breaks.

Further north, the 123-mile (198-kilometer) Plains pipeline runs along the coast near Santa Barbara before turning inland. It is buried and almost invisible for much of its length as far as Kern County in the middle part of the state. For decades, it has been a vital link between offshore oil rigs and onshore processing plants, with average shipments of 1.8 million gallons (6.9 million liters) per day.

U.S. Democratic Senator from California Alex Padilla opposes the proposal, bluntly warning of future risks.

“We have seen time and again how damaging oil spills at sea are to our coastal ecosystems as well as to our outdoor recreation and tourism economies,” Padilla said in a statement. “We shouldn’t risk repeating history by rebuilding or restarting the Plains pipeline.”

Plains spokesman Brad Leone said the company safely transported 90 billion gallons (341 billion liters) last year across North America. “Plains is committed to designing, building and maintaining these lines in a safe and reliable manner,” he said.

The project faces many hurdles, including a federal class action lawsuit brought by landowners who claim Plains does not have the right to use existing easements for a new pipeline. Lead trial attorney Barry Cappello said the project would destroy vineyards and coastal ranches and that “our clients never signed up for it.”

Shon Hiatt, associate professor at the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California, said the company’s motivation to jumpstart the pipeline is obvious.

“They’re making money on it,” Hiatt said. “The price of oil is not going to go down.

He said the cost of a barrel of oil could exceed $ 100 next year. It’s about $ 77 now.

Documents filed by Plains with Santa Barbara County indicate that the replaced pipeline, although smaller than its predecessor, could reach nearly 1.7 million gallons (6.3 million liters) per day. At current prices, that amount of oil would be valued at over $ 3 million per day, or potentially over $ 1 billion per year, although pipelines often do not operate at full capacity.

Oil has been drilled in California since the 19th century, but the project is under debate as the state relies on its history loaded with fossil fuels. Climate change extends the threat of wildfires, droughts and tidal waves, and the state has positioned itself as a world leader in renewable energy and pioneering policies to slow global warming.

California – the world’s fifth-largest economy alone – plans to ban the sale of new gasoline-powered cars and trucks by 2035 and end oil production a decade later. The recent spill at Huntington Beach has renewed calls to stop all drilling off the coast.

The Plains Pipeline will inevitably be a symbol of this conflict: the desire for oil to power cars, heat buildings, and make plastics amid mounting political pressure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Biden administration – which recently auctioned off vast oil and gas reserves in the Gulf of Mexico – faces the same dilemma.

California’s oil and gas industry directly and indirectly supports more than 365,000 jobs and has an annual output of more than $ 150 billion, according to a study of 2017 data. Nationally, the industry has supported nearly 17 million jobs in 2020, according to a report from the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association, a trade group. California ranked second for direct industrial employment, with about 75,000 jobs, although it lags far behind Texas, the nation’s largest producer with nearly 350,000 jobs.

Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom has spoken of the economic challenges of retiring from the industry even as he promotes a greener future for the state. His office declined to comment on the Plains project, noting that it was under review by government agencies.

Environmentalists have highlighted the risk of spills – as well as earthquake threats – by opposing a new line.

California is known as the birthplace of the modern environmentalist movement, and a landmark event was a massive 1969 spill off the coast of Santa Barbara. Despite this history and the move to green energy, the Newsom administration has resisted taking a strong stand against new fossil fuel projects, said Julie Teel Simmonds, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group that s opposes the Plains pipeline.

The state’s decision on the project “is an opportunity for California to walk the talk” to wean itself off oil, she said.

The Plains Pipeline was last in service on May 19, 2015, when a corroded section above ground and passing west of Santa Barbara ruptured, sending 140,000 gallons (529,957 liters) of oil. on a state beach and in the ocean.

Federal inspectors found that Plains operators working from a Texas control room more than 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers) away had silenced an alarm that reportedly signaled a leak and, unaware that a spill had occurred. product, restarted the bleeding line after it was closed.

Plains apologized for the spill and paid for the cleanup. Plains was later fined over $ 3 million. The cleanup cost $ 100 million, and a 2017 company report estimated the cost of the spill at $ 335 million, not including lost revenue.

A key milestone in the review of the proposed pipeline – a complex environmental study conducted by Santa Barbara County – is expected by the spring. About a dozen federal, state and local agencies participated in the review of the project, first proposed in 2017.

It would meander largely along the existing road. The new line – technically two connected pipelines, like its predecessor – crosses environmentally sensitive areas, including slices of the Carrizo Plains National Monument and the Los Padres National Forest.

Three ExxonMobil platforms that depended on the line have been closed since the spill. ExxonMobil has proposed establishing interim trucking routes to transport the oil, which would allow dormant offshore platforms to resume production. In a split vote in early November, the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission urged county supervisors to reject the company’s proposal.

“Trucking remains the only option to move crude to market until a pipeline is available,” ExxonMobil spokesperson Julie L. King said in a statement.

Environmental groups warn that decades-old rigs present a distinct risk from aging equipment; ExxonMobil says the platforms, although they are closed, have been kept in a “safe and preserved condition”.

Also at issue: the existing line and its replacement would cross many earthquake-prone areas. According to a consultant study conducted for Plains, the pipeline would pass through 10 potentially active faults, as well as a dozen fingers of the active San Andreas fault zone.

“Parts of the pipeline could be subjected to intense seismic tremors and some areas could experience ground fracture in the event of a major earthquake,” the study found, recommending safety measures including covering the line with protective foam.

Bob Nelson, who chairs the Santa Barbara County Supervisory Board, said he would wait for detailed environmental reports next year before making a decision, but was encouraged by what he has seen so far . He noted that Plains could have sought to repair the existing pipeline, but instead wants a new line built to modern safety standards.

“What that means is jobs,” Nelson said. With continued demand for oil, even as the state moves away from fossil fuels, “I think we should find a way to deliver it safely and in an environmentally responsible manner …”.


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Felix J. Dixon