At New Pig, we strongly believe in taking preventative steps to minimize the chance that a spill or release will occur. Companies that store and handle liquids, such as oil and other hazardous substances, are required to have plans and best management practices (BMPs) in place. Despite deploying necessary precautions, however, spills still happen.
Take the recent crude oil spill from a ruptured pipeline that entered a storm culvert and contaminated about ten miles of coastline near Santa Barbara, California. It’s easy to point fingers and say that Plains All American Pipeline, the owner of the pipeline, should have done more to prevent the spill. In fact, the company had spill prevention preparedness and prevention plans — more than 2,000 pages — in place. They also had the plans endorsed by federal agencies and spent more than $300 million in maintenance and pipeline integrity in 2014 alone. Since 2008, the company has also spent several billion dollars (with a “b”) on line repairs, training and upgrades to their systems.
The root cause of this incident is still undetermined, but government officials have stated that there was corrosion and a six-inch opening in the section of pipe that was taken for analysis. Plains All American Pipeline had taken several steps to prevent corrosion. The pipeline had a urethane coating, foam insulation and an outer wrap. It was also shielded with cathodic protection.
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) stated that Plains All American Pipeline employed an “adequate level of cathodic protection” on the pipeline and that it was thicker than expected at the point of the breach. In addition to these protective steps, the pipeline had recently been internally inspected with specialized cameras called “smart pigs” that visually record the condition of the pipes and identify any anomalies. This was the second inspection in the past three years, a higher interval than the federal requirement of once every five years.
So, even with BMPs, safety procedures, response plans, training and many other protocols and elements in place, the spill still happened. This problem isn’t isolated to pipelines, and it isn’t unique to oil and gas, or any other industry for that matter.
Preventing spills and being prepared to respond to spills when they do happen are two things that every company needs to take seriously. Being prepared means more than having a spill kit. It involves analyzing your risks and creating a plan with BMPs that mitigates those risks and identifies the steps that will need to be taken when things go wrong.
But, it doesn’t stop there. Plans are worthless if workers don’t know about them, or if they don’t understand how or why to use them. They are also worthless if they list unavailable or unrealistic resources. That’s why training, drills and exercises also play a huge role in spill preparedness.
Nobody can guarantee that a facility, pipeline, vessel, truck or ship will never have a spill, even with the most extensive set of BMPs, elaborate and well-written plans, comprehensive training, diligent employees and a prepared response team in place. Taking necessary precautions, however, all of these things will help minimize the impact.
Learn more about why planning ahead and BMPs are crucial in spill prevention and response at our “Stop the Spill” page.