Broken pipeline spills thousands of gallons in California

AP News
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Posted: May 24, 2016 12:46 PM

TRACY, Calif. (AP) — Hazardous-materials crews were sopping up as much as 21,000 gallons of oil Tuesday that spilled from a broken underground pipeline in rural Northern California, but none of it flowed into waterways, officials said.

Shell Pipeline Co. said a response team was clearing contaminated soil and helping local and state officials monitor air, water and ground conditions in mostly farm and pastureland near Tracy, about an hour east of San Francisco, the San Francisco Chronicle reported (http://bit.ly/1TB4Y1x ).

Shell reported the leak after noticing that an underground pipeline lost pressure Friday, and it shut off the flow of oil. The crude was visible in a 250-by-40-foot area on the ground, San Joaquin County officials said.

"Our primary focus continues to be the safety and health of the responders, for the protection of the environment and to minimize any further impact as a result of this release," company spokesman Ray Fisher said in an email to the newspaper.

Environmentalists still were assessing the threat from the spill, including what wildlife could be affected and whether it posed any significant risks to underground water reserves, Patrick Sullivan, a spokesman for the Center for Biological Diversity, told The Associated Press.

But in scale and threat, the release was "certainly nothing like the Santa Barbara spill" last year, when more than 120,000 gallons of oil from a broken pipeline flowed onto scenic coastline, Sullivan said.

California's biggest oil spill in recent years fouled beaches and killed hundreds of birds and marine mammals. The oil plume spread 9 miles into the Pacific Ocean, and tar balls washed ashore more than 100 miles away in Los Angeles County.

Federal regulators said this month that the pipeline company responsible for that break, Plains All American Pipeline, failed to prevent corrosion in its pipes, detect the rupture or respond swiftly as crude streamed toward the ocean.

The company was indicted this month on 46 criminal counts, including four felonies of polluting state waters and three dozen misdemeanors of harming wildlife.

Houston-based Plains has apologized for the spill but said it would not comment further because of ongoing investigations and pending lawsuits. It previously said the spill was an accident not a crime.

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Information from: San Francisco Chronicle, http://www.sfgate.com