The failure of Plains All American Pipeline’s coastal California oil pipeline five years ago prevented massive emissions of climate pollution. If the seven offshore drilling platforms served by the pipeline had not gone idle, they would have added 33.9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution to the atmosphere.
That’s roughly equivalent to operating two coal-fired power plants in California over the same period — or to burning more than 37 billion tons of coal.
Tuesday marks the fifth anniversary of the May 19, 2015 Plains pipeline failure that released more than 120,000 gallons of oil near Refugio State Beach, killing hundreds of birds and marine mammals. ExxonMobil is now trying to restart its three platforms and transport that oil, using up to 70 tanker trucks per day on California highway — a project Santa Barbara County is considering this summer. The other four offshore platforms shuttered by the spill are being decommissioned.
“California is better off without drilling for oil from these polluting platforms, and so is our climate,” said Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Santa Barbara County shouldn’t allow ExxonMobil to restart its offshore drilling operations and endanger Californians.”
The Center calculated the global warming benefit of halting oil production off the Santa Barbara coast in 2015 based on the pipeline’s average throughput of 43,189 barrels of oil per day since 2000. In the five years since the pipeline went offline, an estimated 3.3 billion gallons of oil stayed in the ground beneath these platforms.
Plains All American Pipeline, which a Santa Barbara jury found criminally liable for the failure of its severely corroded pipeline and delays in reporting the oil spill, leading to a $3.3 million fine, has applied to build a new pipeline along a similar route. The draft environment impact report for that project is expected to be released later this year.
The Center’s analysis used data from Plains’ application to build a new pipeline and calculated the resulting global warming impacts using the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator.
Oil pipelines regularly fail in California and around the country. Federal pipeline data shows there were more than 707 pipeline incidents in California since 1986. Those incidents killed nine people and spilled more than 9 million gallons of oil. Nationwide, from 1986 until March 2020, there were 18,087 oil and gas pipeline incidents, 638 deaths, 3,752 injuries and $10.38 billion in damage.
“On the anniversary of this deadly oil spill, in the middle of a public health crisis, Santa Barbara should embrace a clean energy future,” Monsell said. “We need to end offshore drilling, not bring it back to life with another dirty oil pipeline.”