Thursday, July 9, 2015

Insights on the Refugio Spill - Rex and Greg at the Beach

By Melinda Pillsbury-Foster 

Rex and Greg having a confab on the Beach in Santa Barbara 

Let's start at the beginning.  The oil which poured out of the pipe originated from the Hondo Drilling Platform, owned by ExxonMobil.  It was transported via ExxonMobil pipes to Las Flores, an ExxonMobil Facility, and then began its transport by Plains All American Pipeline through the Plains connection to the ExxonMobil Tank. 

10:45:00 AM

Five Plains employees are at work in a room at ExxonMobil's Las Flores Pump Station where their company's ten miles of pipeline begins a few feet from one of two massive tanks.  

A mechanical issue is reported.  The pipeline, carrying Exxon crude from Hondo, shuts down at Sisquoc Pumping Station due to unknown reasons.  At 10:47AM, approximately, Las Flores shuts down, reporting a pressure surge.  

Exxon owns the three drilling platforms, Hondo, Heritage and Harmony, located in the Santa Barbara Channel.  Exxon owns the pipeline which feeds into the Las Flores  Canyon Processing Facility along with the room provided to the five Plains employees who oversee the exit of Pipe 901 from Las Flores.  The Refugio Spill will take place three miles into the 901. 

ExxonMobil Infrastructure involved in the Refugio Spill

The ten miles of pipe owned by Plains on this route, known as Pipeline 901,  had been cited by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)  as needing immediate repair in the Corrective Action Order issued by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), dated June 3, 2015.  Plains had been aware of the problems since the test was done a month earlier, two weeks before the spill took place on May 19th.   

 Las Flores Facility, owned by ExxonMobil.  Red Line is Pipe 901.

The May 5th In-Line Inspection (ILI) revealed four areas requiring, “ immediate investigation and remediation” on Pipe 901.  Loss of original metal was reported as “54 and 74% of the original pipe wall thickness.”  

Because of the corrosive nature of crude, high temperatures used for transport and weathering pipes need constant monitoring.  

The Hondo Crude flowing through Pipe 901 on May 19th was heated to 126 degrees so it could be transported.  The profile for the Hondo Crude includes Sulphur 4.3 % by volume (sour oil) .  

When heated, the Sulfur will be ready, if exposed to oxygen, to react, becoming Hydrogen Sulfide, a highly poisonous gas.  The Hondo Crude also contains Benzene, which also becomes gaseous when released to the air.  Both, being heavier than air, could have, absent a breeze, flowed down to the beach.   

The five Plains employees controlled a valve in a small building, like a maintenance shed, a few feet inside the Exxon Facility.  

 Pipeline 901 crosses the manifold carrying the oil, owned by ExxonMobil.

150 feet from the tank is a manifold where pipes  come together.  This is exposed.  A spur crosses the main pipeline.  The pipelines, perpendicular to the main line,  lead to  a small building about six car lengths long and 2 car lengths wide where it stops.  

This is where the valve is believed to be located.   It is also the place where the Smart Pig, used to test Pipe 901 on May 5th was inserted, traveling all the way to Refugio and beyond.  The Smart Pig reported to Plains' contractors, who let Plains know, there were problems with 901, providing them with the data.  

Smart Pig
Plains had not been ordered by Jeffrey D. Wiese, Associate Administrator for Pipeline Safety, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, to stop pumping  so they continued to do so.  It was a judgment call.  


Sisquoc Pump Station shuts down both the backup and main pumps.  


The Refugio Spill has not yet taken place.  

The pumps at Las Flores shut down due to a high pressure reading.  An operator restarts the pumps at the Sisquoc Pump Station, which is about 50 miles north of the spill site.  


Between 10:53 an 10:55 first Las Flores and then Sisquoc restart pumping. 

How much pressure is too much when the pipe is already having issues?  This is a judgment call.  
Pressure gauges are old technology and subject to multiple misreadings.  Many oil companies now use Ultrasound monitoring, which provides precise bi-directional and highly dynamic flow measurement and the non-intrusive clamp-on technology to ascertain flow rates, a better indicator. 
Plains is still on old technology in other ways as well.  No automatic shut off valve is on the system although Santa Barbara County requires this.  


The Sisquoc back-up pump goes down, followed by the main pump, according to the company. It is not possible to restart the pumping.  At Las Flores pumping continues.  


Due to “pressure anomalies” occur that morning, a Plains operator at the Midland Control Center in Texas remotely shuts down the ruptured pipe and finally stopping the pump at Las Flores.  


A 9-1-1 call reporting strong oily odors comes in to the Fire Department Dispatch Center for Gaviota. In response, a crew from County Fire Station 18 goes out on the bluffs to investigate the strong odor and follows it down to the beach at Refugio where 901 is bleeding oil through the culvert, onto the beach and into the Pacific Ocean.  
The potentially fatal concentration of Hydrogen Sulfide and Benzene, dispersed to the area north and east, will have dissipated from its maximum ten minute high by the time emergency personnel arrive.  
It could have been worse. 

Exxon and Plains appear, by reports, to follow the same protocols for monitoring flow in the pipelines in Santa Barbara County, this being a pressure reading.  No mention is made of ultrasound technology.  

Some questions naturally occur.  

What did Exxon know about the problems with 901 and when did they know it?  

Why is Exxon not also under investigation?  Why have litigants failed to name the corporation in their law suits, as is usual in similar circumstances?  

Why wasn't ExxonMobil asked to answer questions at the June 26th Hearing in Santa Barbara?   

Does Exxon have any data which is relevant to the ongoing investigation?  

Now, how about some answers!

Company Safety Records:  

Plains All American Pipeline - Environmental Record 
Our thanks to Channel Keepers

ExxonMobil - Environmental Record
Our thanks to the great people who provided the original research.

Melinda Pillsbury-Foster is the CEO of DANS, Disaster Alert News Service, and a life long advocate for the environment and social justice.  DANS provides technical background on issues of petroleum using the expertise of DANS Director, David Lincoln, a whistleblower on the oil companies and qualified expert witness on their practices and technologies.  

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Oklahoma Recognizes Role of Drilling in Earthquakes

From: NY Times 

By  APRIL 21, 2015

 Sparks, Okla., in 2011. A series of shocks that year exceeding magnitude 5.0 caused millions of dollars in damage in the state. CreditSue Ogrocki/Associated Press 

Abandoning years of official skepticism, Oklahoma’s government on Tuesday embraced a scientific consensus that earthquakes rocking the state are largely caused by the underground disposal of billions of barrels of wastewater from oil and gas wells.
The state’s energy and environment cabinet introduced a website detailing the evidence behind that conclusion Tuesday, including links to expert studies of Oklahoma’s quakes. The site includes an interactive map that plots not only earthquake locations, but also the sites of more than 3,000 active wastewater-injection wells.
The website coincided with a statement by the state-run Oklahoma Geological Survey that it “considers it very likely” that wastewater wells are causing the majority of the state’s earthquakes.  MORE

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Were You Poisoned?

If you live in Ashtabula you well may have been.

The scene above looks pristine, inviting, safe.  But is it?

The poisons seeping into your life from a multitude of sources do not have to be obvious.  But in a growing number of locations they are present.

Your neighborhood can look pristine, inviting, clean, but still harbor enough polluting presence to destroy the health of those you love. 

This site is your tool for the unadulterated truth on risks you may well be struggling with as health problems, never imagining the cause.

You do not have to be paranoid to be worried about the impact on yourself and your family from the tens of thousands of sources of toxic waste which have gone so far toward destroying our lives.

Action begins with a realistic understanding of the risks you face and what you can expect.  We can help you get the information you need so you can take the next steps.  That may be a law suit.  It may be using the alternatives for health which many believe aid in recovery.

We'll provide information on those issues, too.  But first you need the information and that starts with reading the material we provide and filling out our Tox Profile Form.  It's your life.  Think about what you can expect if you do nothing. These poisons could be making millions of people sick. You could also be a victim.

For solutions and remedies to some of the chemicals that could be making you sick, see our Toxics Page with regional maps and case studies for the worst pollutants.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

A $600-Million Fracking Company Just Sued This Tiny Ohio Town For Its Water

The Slope Creek Reservoir in Barnesville, Ohio, provides water for at least two oil and gas companies.   CREDIT: Courtesy Concerned Barnesville Area Residents

A tiny town in eastern Ohio is being sued by an Oklahoma-based oil and gas company that bought more than 180 million gallons of water from the town last year. That water use, combined with a dry fall, prompted the village to temporarily shut off water to Gulfport Energy. Now, a second company has a water agreement, and there might not be enough water to go around.
Gulfport Energy alleges in the lawsuit that the village of Barnesville, population 4,100, violated its agreement to provide water from its reservoir by entering into a contract with oil and gas company Antero Resources. Gulfport says the village’s contract with Antero allows for withdrawals beyond what Gulfport is allowed to take.
Gulfport’s water supply can be shut off whenever water levels in the reservoir create a risk to the health and safety of the village residents and businesses. Last fall, the reservoir was down three feet below average when village officials stopped all outside withdrawals.  MORE

Friday, March 27, 2015

Future Blast Zones? How Crude-By-Rail Puts U.S. Communities At Risk

From:  telesur

by Steve Early

Smoke rises from derailed train cars in western Alabama on Nov. 8, 2013.
By: Steve Early

The transport of petroleum via rail is now a well-known and unwelcome sight in many other U.S. communities. Its long distance rail transport has resulted in five major train fires and explosions in the last 16 months alone.

Richmond, California began life more than a century ago as a sleepy little railroad town. It was the second place on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay where a transcontinental rail line connected with ferries, to transport freight and passengers to San Francisco. Now a diverse industrial city of 100,000, Richmond is still crisscrossed with tracks, both main lines and shorter ones, serving its deep-water port, huge Chevron oil refinery, and other local businesses. 

Trains just arriving or being readied for their next trip, move in and out of a sprawling Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) rail yard located right next to the oldest part of town. Some train formations are more than 100 cars long. The traffic stalls they create on nearby streets and related use of loud horns, both day and night, have long been a source of neighborhood complaints. Persistent city hall pressure has succeeded in cutting horn blasts by about 1,000 a day, through the creation of several dozen much appreciated “quiet zones.” No other municipality in California has established so many, but only after many years of wrestling with the industry. 

Despite progress on the noise front, many trackside residents continue to experience “quality of life” problems related to the air they breath. Some of their complaints arise from Richmond’s role as a transfer point for coal and petroleum coke (aka “pet coke”) being exported to Asia. As one Richmond official explained at a community meeting in March, these “climate wrecking materials” wend their way through the city in open cars—leaving, in their wake, houses, backyards, and even parked cars covered with a thick film of grimy, coal dust. Coal train fall-out has become so noisome in Richmond that its seven-member city council—now dominated by environmental activists— wants the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) to mandate the use of enclosed cars.  MORE

Nader: Oil Trains Unsafe (& Unecessary) At Any Speed

From:  Popular Resistance

Oil trains for people not oil

Back in 1991 the National Transportation Safety Board first identified oil trains as unsafe — the tank cars, specifically ones called DOT-111s, were too thin and punctured too easily, making transport of flammable liquids like oil unreasonably dangerous. As bad as this might sound, at the very least there was not a lot of oil being carried on the rails in 1991.

Now, in the midst of a North American oil boom, oil companies are using fracking and tar sands mining to produce crude in remote areas of the U.S. and Canada. To get the crude to refineries on the coasts the oil industry is ramping up transport by oil trains. In 2008, 9,500 crude oil tank cars moved on US rails. In 2013 the number was more than 400,000! With this rapid growth comes a looming threat to public safety and the environment. No one — not federal regulators or local firefighters — are prepared for oil train derailments, spills and explosions.

Unfortunately, the rapid increase in oil trains has already meant many more oil train disasters. Railroads spilled more oil in 2013 than in the previous 40 years combined.

Trains are the most efficient way to move freight and people. This is why train tracks run through our cities and towns. Our rail system was never designed to move hazardous materials, however; if it was, train tracks would not run next to schools and under football stadiums.  MORE