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It's Time To Plug the Loopholes In Pipeline Regulation 163

Posted by timothy
from the slippery-laws dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com (2995471) writes "Congresswoman Janice Hahn writes in the Daily Breeze that thousands of gallons of crude oil spilled onto a residential street in Wilmington, California when an idle pipeline burst in a residential neighborhood, wreaking havoc on the lives of families who live in the community. "With a noxious smell and the sounds of jackhammers engulfing the community, the residential neighborhood turned into a toxic waste site in less than an hour," says Hahn. "The smell was nauseating and unbearable. Extensive drilling on the street is causing damage to driveways and even cracking tile flooring inside homes. Residents have seen their lawns die within a two-week span and they worry that the soil may be toxic. Several residents have suffered from eye irritation, nausea, headaches and dizziness due to the foul oil odor, including an elderly woman who has lived in Wilmington for more than 20 years." (More, below.)
"The 10-inch pipeline is owned by Phillips 66, who initially said it was almost positive that the company was not to blame for the leak and declined to elaborate on why the unused 10-inch pipeline was filled with crude oil. Hahn says current loopholes in pipeline regulation are inexcusable and has called for a congressional hearing to examine regulations for pipeline safety and plans to introduce legislation that will specifically require that all abandoned or idle pipelines are routinely inspected. "The Wilmington community deserves answers and support from Phillips 66 and handing out gift cards and breakfast burritos to the residents is not in any way a substitute for transparency and accountability to the community," concludes Hahn. "This oil spill could have been prevented. With prudent oversight, we can make sure that the industries our communities rely on are also good neighbors and ensure that an incident like this never happens again.""
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It's Time To Plug the Loopholes In Pipeline Regulation

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  • No problem! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Sunday April 06, 2014 @12:50PM (#46677145) Journal
    All the residents capable of retaining counsel and fighting a decade-long war of attrition with a superior force can simply achieve redress for this tort through the courts! (until we tort-reform that away). Any of the sickies who 'die' before 'the lawsuit even finishes 250,000 pages of discovery' clearly just didn't care enough about righting the wrongs done to them, so they probably deserve them.
    • Re:No problem! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by demonlapin (527802) on Sunday April 06, 2014 @02:03PM (#46677513) Homepage Journal
      I find it difficult to believe that the oil industry in California is under-regulated. And yet all those rules failed to stop this leak.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        That's because you naively believe that California is effectively regulated.

        The California electric crisis proved the lie in that, despite the number of people who mistakenly believed that it was due to power production being stymied by regulation, the reality was significantly due to deregulation.

        • The California power crises happened during the move from regulation to deregulation.

          The system is running fine, now that the hangover from regulation has cleared.

          The fact is that generation was underbuilt by the regulated system. The power pool rules were defective in that they didn't cap the market.

          Players bet their companies on the first summer and were bailed out of their fuckup. But it was for the last time.

          • Re:No problem! (Score:5, Insightful)

            by houstonbofh (602064) on Sunday April 06, 2014 @02:40PM (#46677787)

            ...But it was for the last time.

            Talk about naive...

            • Do you have any idea how power pools work? It's a market now, like it or not. PG&E's service area is now shrinking in a long term unstoppable way. Watch for SF to pull their PUD out again. ;-)

              Granting other parts of the nation haven't moved past rate base so there is still lots of regulator liability left in areas.

              • All it would take is for a minor bubble and value crash to endanger a few of the big providers now, and half would get bail outs. You don't want the power market going out of business, do you?
                • What? The market will not go out of business. Capital is relatively plentiful and there are many participants, many trying to geologically diversify. No economic plant will stay shutdown for long. The sooner uneconomic plants shutdown the better. That was the main point of power pools...

                  What you describe might happen in areas still under rate base. Fortunately most power pools have been running for a decade now (without the drama we saw in CA). Only areas where the 'local' power companies have so much po

                  • by dj245 (732906)

                    What? The market will not go out of business. Capital is relatively plentiful and there are many participants, many trying to geologically diversify. No economic plant will stay shutdown for long. The sooner uneconomic plants shutdown the better. That was the main point of power pools...

                    What you describe might happen in areas still under rate base. Fortunately most power pools have been running for a decade now (without the drama we saw in CA). Only areas where the 'local' power companies have so much power (cough, Southern Company, cough) that market based systems are being delayed is bankruptcy and bailout still a possibility.

                    The fundamental flaw in your argument is that you assume that uneconomic plants are not needed. This is far from true!! For the 1-5 hottest days of the year*, uneconomic plants are desperately needed when the rest of power is already used up. There are plenty of sites across the US which operate for less than 2 weeks a year, because they are for the greatest "peak of the peak". The power grid needs these plants just as badly as it needs the 24/7 coal/nuclear plant. But in a pure economic model, those h

          • Re:No problem! (Score:5, Informative)

            by mspohr (589790) on Sunday April 06, 2014 @02:42PM (#46677795)

            There was plenty of generating capacity.
            The crisis was created by market manipulation by Enron and others. They were able to manipulate the market because it was DE-regulated.
            Now that we have better regulations in place, the market is working better.
            From Wikipedia:
            California had an installed generating capacity of 45GW. At the time of the blackouts, demand was 28GW. A demand supply gap was created by energy companies, mainly Enron, to create an artificial shortage. Energy traders took power plants offline for maintenance in days of peak demand to increase the price.[9][10] Traders were thus able to sell power at premium prices, sometimes up to a factor of 20 times its normal value. Because the state government had a cap on retail electricity charges, this market manipulation squeezed the industry's revenue margins, causing the bankruptcy of Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) and near bankruptcy of Southern California Edison in early 2001.[11]
            The financial crisis was possible because of partial deregulation legislation instituted in 1996 by the California Legislature (AB 1890) and Governor Pete Wilson. Enron took advantage of this deregulation and was involved in economic withholding and inflated price bidding in California's spot markets.[12]
            The crisis cost between $40 to $45 billion.[13]

            • Many of the plants had been run for years without maintenance, were at the end of their lives and had just changed hands and in many cases crews.

              Much of that installed capacity was not available as the system was _out of water_. Very dry hydro year.

              This is exactly the kind of subject never to trust Wikipedia about.

              • Re:No problem! (Score:4, Insightful)

                by mspohr (589790) on Sunday April 06, 2014 @03:36PM (#46678231)

                I should trust you?
                The Wikipedia article has 36 references.
                Where are your references for your theory?

                • The statement that the system was "_out of water_" is an exaggeration.

                  According to http://www.sanfranciscobay.sie... [sierraclub.org]:"The year 2000 was about average for rainfall (97% of typical precipitation)".

                  Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] says:

                  In the summer of 2001 a drought in the northwest states reduced the amount of hydroelectric power available to California. Though at no point during the crisis was California's sum of actual electric-generating capacity plus out-of-state supply less than demand, California's energy reserves were low e

                • My Dad won't read Wikipedia either. He gets his information from Fox News.

                  • My Dad won't read Wikipedia either. He gets his information from Fox News.

                    Wikipedia is useless for anything political unless you happen to agree with the political slant of the article.

                    Want information about metalurgy, great. Wikipedia rocks for that.

                    Want formation about anything where there is political finger pointing? Not so much.

                    • Yeah, that's what I tell him, but Fox News said Wikipedia was full of shit, so he won't reference it for anything useful, like organic chemistry & such.
                      He clung to dial-up for an amazingly long time, too. Netzero ftw!

              • This is exactly the kind of subject never to trust Wikipedia about.

                The useful thing about Wikipedia is that it cites references.

                It's wise not to "trust" Wikipedia-- or any single source-- but it is a good first place to go to look up references.

              • by meustrus (1588597)
                I suppose you'd rather we read about it on Conservapedia. Well I tried to read about a few things there once. After only a couple hours of reading I had long passed the "don't trust Wikipedia, this is what *really* happened" stuff and had wandered strangely into a "nerds suck, jocks rule, god hates fags" shithole. Which is what happens when a web site based on countering perceived "bias" operates for years without any of the kind of (admittedly draconian at times) quality controls Wikipedia has in place.
          • Re:No problem! (Score:5, Informative)

            by Geoffrey.landis (926948) on Sunday April 06, 2014 @03:17PM (#46678119) Homepage

            The system is running fine, now that the hangover from regulation has cleared.

            The system is running fine, now that Enron is out of business and the top con men put in jail or (in the case of Lay) dead. (Not for defrauding the people of California-- that's not a crime-- but for defrauding their own company as well, resulting in crash of value of the stock.

        • If one of the wealthiest and bluest states in the country - cannot effectively regulate itself, then perhaps the problem is that regulations don't actually work very well.
    • Here's an easy fix: regulate the courts. The courts must be dangerously under-regulated if they are as inefficient as you say.

      • by HiThere (15173)

        You are making assumptions about their goals.

        The US legal system derives from the British which, since the Magna Charta, has been about ensuring that nobody who is powerful enough to overthrow the government wouldn't lose more than they would gain by doing so. So the courts attempt to provide a veneer of justice while actually finding in favor of those with the most power, including wealth as a form of power. They don't always do that, but that's always the way to bet. The problem is you don't always kno

    • by tomhath (637240)
      Did you even read the article? It appears they found the leak and contained most of it, not much was actually spilled. One backhoe digging a hole to fix the leak; cleanup will take a few days. Wouldn't effect the water supply or sewers.
    • by jythie (914043)
      Well, if they really cared they would simply earn more money and live elsewhere, after all since they had full awareness of everything around their property they choose to live with the risk of living near a pipeline and since opportunity is available to all they must be lazy since they choose to be poor, so this is really their fault.
  • Send them pizza (Score:5, Informative)

    by ATMAvatar (648864) on Sunday April 06, 2014 @12:54PM (#46677155) Journal
    After all, everyone knows that free pizza [newsweek.com] makes everything better after an event like this.
  • by pla (258480) on Sunday April 06, 2014 @12:58PM (#46677177) Journal
    Why don't pipelines like that have passive shutoff valves every hundred feet or so, such that if the pipeline suddenly looses pressure, the valve closes and no more oil can escape than already made it into that section?

    We've had those for water pipes in our homes for decades to keep the house from flooding in case of a burst. And filling your basement with water does a hell of a lot less damage than filling your basement with crude.

    Of course, we all already know the answer to that. The same answer GM didn't give congress last week; the same answer we always have when talking about health and safety tradeoffs: Money.
    • For the same reason we don't put firewalls after 100 feet of network cabling. It's expensive and likely to _create_ more failures than it prevents.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by pla (258480)
        For the same reason we don't put firewalls after 100 feet of network cabling. It's expensive and likely to _create_ more failures than it prevents.

        Great analogy, because just like water or crude, bits on the wire leak out when a failure occurs and make a mess of everything around them. Man, I'll never forget the sticky mess I found myself in when a backhoe came through the top wall of the server room and took out a densely packed cabling tray. Bits up to my waist within minutes, just awful. ;)

        Ironica
        • There are already pressure meters, flow rate monitors, gravity meters, automatic shutdown valves. Every origination station, booster station, tank farm, delivery station, and pumping station monitors their assigned segments while simultaneously passing all the monitoring data back to a centralized pipeline control center. However these precautions cannot stop at least some product from being released into the environment if the actual pipeline is ruptured.

        • Please go back and read what you wrote:

          Why don't pipelines like that have passive shutoff valves every hundred feet or s

          I answered your actual question. Now, you' seem to be mocking it, based on how my answer does not apply to a question you did not ask, mainly:

          Because, we do put routers between network segments and fir

          • by pla (258480)
            I answered your actual question. Now, you' seem to be mocking it, based on how my answer does not apply to a question you did not ask

            Fair enough. I should not have mocked your answer, and I apologize for doing so.

            I thought it clear, though (from my subject, if nothing else), that I asked my original question rhetorically. I simply don't find that even remotely an acceptable answer.
      • Thats a really really bad analogy, do you know what a firewall is? do you understand the difference between a logical network and err pipes....cause its a world of difference.

        Networking systems do have shutoff valves at critical places to stop the flow of bad information before it causes critical damage (at least a decent secure setup, it certainly can be done without great expense). In 20 years the tech industry has done more to protect information then the oil company's have done to protect their oil in 8

    • Why don't pipelines like that have passive shutoff valves every hundred feet or so,

      Because we live in a world of finite resources. This would be prohibitively expensive. If we want to spend money to improve the world, this would be one of the least effective ways to do it. Accidents happen, and no finite amount of spending is going to stop them all. This was one incident. No one was killed or injured beyond some nausea. Anyone exposed to the oil, or with property damage, will be compensated. Without more information, I would not conclude that either more safety equipment or more re

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by pla (258480)
        Anyone exposed to the oil, or with property damage, will be compensated.

        "Home" does not count as fungible.

        The value to me of the place I've chosen to settle down far exceeds its market value. Yeah, great, they destroyed some houses and will pay for them plus a few grand extra as a "nuisance" fee; except they didn't destroy "some houses", they destroyed a neighborhood.

        You can't just pay me off for my sunny spot on the back deck where the light hits just so, filtered between my favorite trees. You ca
        • by rnturn (11092)

          Just consider the amount of money that will be required to excavate one of the homeowner's lawn to remove the contaminated soil, replace the soil, grade it properly, and replant the grass. That could easily exceed $10K/lawn. And they're offering the homeowners a breakfast burrito and a few bucks for their trouble?

          This is the third pipeline leak that I've heard of in as many (or fewer) weeks. Just where is the pipeline safety track record that these industry spokesweasels refer to?

          On a somewhat-related no

          • by Kohath (38547)

            On a somewhat-related note (well, "oil + pipelines" so close enough): Imagine what sort of damage will be done by a leak of the proposed oil sands pipeline if that corrosive gunk finds its way into the aquifer used by the majority of the Midwest and the huge amount of farming that occurs there

            So you'd rather people continue to die every year [reuters.com] in oil train crashes? You don't have to "imagine" the train crash that killed 47 people in Quebec [wikipedia.org] last summer.

        • by dentin (2175)

          "Home" does not count as fungible.

          Yes, it is. What you meant to say was, "I find it unlikely that anyone would offer me what I consider my home and experiences to be worth."

          You can't just pay me off for my sunny spot on the back deck where the light hits just so, filtered between my favorite trees. You can't just pay me off for the trails I've made in the woods behind my house, or all the time I've spent learning those woods and enjoying them. You can't just pay me off for the squirrels I've trained to take peanuts right from my hand while sitting in that aforementioned favorite sunny spot. You can't just pay me off for needing to move away from my neighbor who I consider a close friend, or pay off his kids who love coming over to play with the cat.

          I might not be able to, but there exist people who can.

          Please be more clear with your wording in the future. Blatant trolling like the above does no-one any good.

          • by pla (258480)
            Yes, it is. What you meant to say was, "I find it unlikely that anyone would offer me what I consider my home and experiences to be worth."

            Fair enough, but it amounts to the same thing under the present discussion. Of course someone could conceivably offer me enough money that I would gladly take it and buy my own private Caribbean island. I won't hold my breath on RDS offering me $100M for my 3Br cape in the middle of nowhere, however.


            Please be more clear with your wording in the future. Blatant tr
          • by AK Marc (707885)

            "Home" does not count as fungible.

            Yes, it is.

            No. A house is fungible. A home is not.

    • Re:Money money money (Score:5, Informative)

      by houstonbofh (602064) on Sunday April 06, 2014 @02:56PM (#46677945)

      Why don't pipelines like that have passive shutoff valves every hundred feet or so, such that if the pipeline suddenly looses pressure, the valve closes and no more oil can escape than already made it into that section?

      Because several miles of crude oil flowing at 10 miles an hour has a lot of mass. Suddenly closing a valve would be like suddenly popping up a wall in front of a train. The oil would not just stop, but find a catastrophic and explosive new path. No, not money. Physics.

      As to the money thing... Why is that considered so unimportant? More people die of a lack of money than any other thing on earth... People who say "It's only money" must have never gone to sleep (sleep, not bed as homeless don't have beds) hungry.

    • by t0rkm3 (666910)

      Given that the spill was 1200 gallons... I may have seriously botched the math, but I think that equates to about 145m of pipeline. Given that the company manages 15000miles of pipeline, 145m between shut-off measures sounds pretty good.

      It's not pretty for the neighborhood, but it really is small potatoes.

      • by 517714 (762276)
        70 barrels is closer to 300 gallons. The author of the story says thousands of gallons early in the story, but later says about 70 barrels.
  • Stop Pretending... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    ...that the current state of regulation is some kind of mistake or oversight. Never attribute to incompetence that which can be sufficiently explained by political corruption (which is not the same as malice - it's merely self interest and indifference towards others, i.e. systematized psychopathy).

    The current state of the regulations is what is intended, and only because they cannot get away with more. The board of Phillips is insulated from their actions (to not maximize safety) both from below (employe

    • No matter how big a spill they make and no matter what the degree of gross negligence, the worst that can possibly happen is that Phillips gets their profits reduced on a one-time basis. Nobody will ever see jail time, and this is the system working exactly as intended.

      Your post reads like speculation based on reading too many conspiracy sites (don't worry, I attribute it to political corruption, not incompetence). I don't know if anyone deserves jailtime for this particular pipeline problem, but criminal charges do happen [sfgate.com].

  • Mismanagement (Score:4, Insightful)

    by kheldan (1460303) on Sunday April 06, 2014 @01:13PM (#46677267) Journal
    Totally out of left field, but what can I say, my mind makes weird-sounding connections sometimes, so just hang with it for a minute..

    Crude oil is nasty stuff. Nobody is arguing that point. But while people complain about that (and this case in particular, and rightly so), they're complaining about it on their computers, or on their phones, both of which have high-end semiconductor devices and batteries in them that required even more noxious, toxic, dangerous chemicals to produce -- but nobody is complaining about their phones, or computers, or their nice quiet hybrid or 100% electric car, now are they? A modern bicycle contains components that required some sort of nasty chemicals and processes to produce, but nobody thinks about that, do they? Even shoes, used to for walking of all things, the most 'green' of all transportation devices, requires some rather nauseating chemicals to produce the synthetic rubber and other synthetic materials in them.

    My point here is this: Mismanagement is the problem. It's like the old argument: 'Guns don't kill people, people kill people'. Gun control advocates give you a dirty look when they hear this, but it's 100% true, now isn't it? Should we continue to transition away from fossil fuels like petroleum and coal? Absolutely! But don't forget that it's humans' management (or the lack thereof) that ends up causing many of the disasterous problems (like in this news story!) and not what's being managed.

    What I'm finally leading up to is this: Things like nuclear power (which, in one form or another, whether it's fission or fusion) are, in and of themselves, not evil; it's the mismanagement of it in the past that's left the nasty taste in people's mouths and the lasting negative sentiments in their minds. If we, as a civilization, had been more thoughtful and careful with our technology, maybe this little disasters in the Los Angeles area wouldn't have happened in the first place.

    Seriously, human race: It's time to grow up and start learning to put aside the base desires for power and money where the public interest is concerned and think more about what's good for our collective civilzation over the long run.
    • by Rob_Bryerton (606093) on Sunday April 06, 2014 @02:11PM (#46677577) Homepage

      Seriously, human race: It's time to grow up and start learning to put aside the base desires for power and money where the public interest is concerned and think more about what's good for our collective civilzation over the long run.

      Welcome to Earth; I see you've just arrived!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Posts like this is why I don't bother with Slashdot anymore. HuffPo seems fair and balanced compared to the tripe that gets greenlit.

    • Posts like this is why I don't bother with Slashdot anymore. HuffPo seems fair and balanced compared to the tripe that gets greenlit.

      Ah yes HuffPro, before my New HDTV it was the only place I can get a TV listing for this area. http://tvlistings.aol.com/ [aol.com]

  • They can use trains instead...

  • An incident in the book Early California Oil comes to mind here: after a sale of an oil tanker truck the two parties realized they weren't sure what to do with the contents of the truck - the buyer had no use for the oil. The seller thus simply emptied all the oil onto the street! The Wilmington oil field is also the poster child for oil extraction causing massive ground subsidence. [saveballona.org] Regulations were more than a bit lax back when. Occasionally people in SOCAL have to deal with this legacy - there was an

    • Because if I buy a tanker unexpectedly full of a valuable commodity I just dump it on the street.

      I'd suspect a hippie with an agenda making up 'facts' for his book.

  • TIC

    Idle pipelines are great targets for Ruger 10/22's (rifles), They meet the requirements of a great target; you shoot it and you get an indication of a hit. Not as good as blasting caps but a pipeline will do in a pinch.

  • Why do we need national regulations to deal with a small local problem that affects only a few people?

    Is it because you have a personal hatred for one of the parties involved? Is it because you will personally gain from the regulation? Or is it because you think everything in the world needs a regulatory hand guiding it -- a government hand, with armed enforcers to punish anyone who gets out of line? Which is it?

  • by PPH (736903) on Sunday April 06, 2014 @02:44PM (#46677821)

    Prior to the Olympic Pipeline explosion [wikipedia.org] in Bellingham, Washington, gasoline was always cheaper there than in other parts of the state. After the imposition of a $112 million settlement on the pipeline owners, the local price of gas jumped above the state average. And it will remain there until the companies have recouped that penalty several times over.

    Companies don't pay fines. The plebes do.

  • It's just 70 gallons of crude oil left in an unused pipeline. No fire. No explosion. Just a mess.

    It's not like a few years ago, when a high pressure gas pipeline exploded in Daly City and took out a small subdivision. Now that was a serious problem and an indication of a worse one. The column of smoke was visible 20 miles away. The state of California made PG&E do hydrostatic testing on all their major gas pipelines, over PG&E's claims that it was unnecessary. During hydrostatic testing with wate

  • Those toxic polluters in government actually made their STREETS themselves out of extra-thick oil.
  • Frankly i dislike oil companies a lot. I'll say that up front. But what I do see in regard to spills and leaks is the same issue that invades many other industries. Frankly people and companies simply can not afford to be responsible. Your car insurance is a great example. Most drivers have insurance that is a joke when compared to the real harm that is often done. I saw one rare recovery in which a woman was ruined for life and in a nursing home permanently at a young age. Somehow her lawyers got

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