California Seeks Oil Pipeline Crackdown After Spill

California would require oil pipelines in environmentally sensitive areas to be outfitted with automatic shut-off valves under proposed legislation following a spill last month that leaked 500 barrels into the Pacific Ocean.

The three bills also would require annual inspections of pipelines and hasten the cleanup response by better positioning state-owned skimmers. A program enabling local fishing vessels to act as contractors to help with clean-up efforts would be modeled on one set up in Alaska following the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989.

The Plains All American Pipeline LP system leaked heavy oil May 19 along a stretch of pristine beach north of Los Angeles and near the site of a 1969 blowout at a Union Oil platform that dumped 80,000 barrels of crude in what was then the worst spill in U.S. history. The latest incident has galvanized efforts to prevent future spills and has prompted calls to phase out drilling in the state altogether.

“Oil is dirty, it is dangerous and it is destructive,” state Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, a Democrat from Santa Barbara, said during a call with reporters Tuesday unveiling the bills along with fellow Democrat Assemblyman Das Williams.

U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, both from California, and Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts sent a letter to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration on May 28, describing the spill response as insufficient. Plains may not have acted quickly enough to detect the leak and an automatic shut-off valve could have reduced the volume of oil released, they said.

PG&E Corp. was told by state regulators to install automatic shut-off valves on some of its high-pressure gas transmission lines after a 2010 explosion killed eight people in the San Francisco suburb of San Bruno, California.

It took PG&E about 90 minutes to stop the flow of gas because the line had to be manually shut down by workers, according to a report by the National Transportation Safety Board.