SELC op-ed: California spill highlights risk to Mobile’s water from Plains pipeline

May 25, 2015: Boat crews work at California's Refugio State Beach to clean up the oil spill from a ruptured pipeline. In 2014 SELC challenged the Army Corps of Engineers’ streamlined permitting process that allowed Plains All-American, the company responsible for the California pipeline rupture, to route a similar oil pipeline less than a mile from Mobile’s public drinking water source.  (© Hector Gutierriez)

The devastation caused by the Santa Barbara County oil spill is a sobering reminder that pipelines, rigs and other oil infrastructure are far from infallible, and that the damage pipeline ruptures inflict on our communities, businesses and the environment can last for years after the fact.

In 2014 SELC challenged the Army Corps of Engineers’ streamlined permitting process that allowed Plains All-American, the company responsible for the California pipeline rupture, to route a similar oil pipeline less than a mile from Mobile’s public drinking water source.       

Along with our partner Mobile Baykeeper, Keith Johnston, Managing Attorney for SELC’s Birmingham office, discusses the serious risks pipelines can pose without more stringent considerations in an op-ed published today in the Mobile Press-Register.

Some highlights from the piece are excerpted below.

“What would normally be a busy start of summer season for coastal tourism in Santa Barbara County, Calif., has been bustling for all of the wrong reasons. 

“The Plains All-American pipeline spill sent 21,000 gallons into the Pacific Ocean, creating an almost 10-square-mile oil slick.

“As we speak, millions of gallons of crude oil are coursing through a Plains pipeline in the Big Creek Lake watershed along Hamilton Creek in Mobile -- in a pipeline the exact same size as the pipeline in California -- less than a mile from Big Creek Lake, the drinking water source for all of Mobile. 

“How could this reckless placement have been approved? Systematic failure at all levels of government.   

“The Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of Mobile Baykeeper, filed a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' streamlined permitting process for the pipeline.

“The judge agreed that the Corps had not considered the pipeline's proximity to the drinking water supply, but found that the Corps was under no obligation to expressly consider proximity of the drinking water intake due to the nature of the check-the-box approval permit authorized by the Corps.

“Plains put profit over people and our local, state and federal governments chose industry over citizens, jeopardizing the public health, environment and economy of Mobile, indefinitely. 

“History, and Plains' history, shows that pipeline ruptures and oil spills are not rare occurrences. If Plains' pipeline ruptured in Mobile, our sole source of drinking water would be in danger.

“Our local, state and federal agencies should take measures to ensure that Plains' Mobile pipeline will not put our drinking water in harm's way and reassure our community that this illogical and ill-advised placement of oil infrastructure will not happen again.” 

Full text of the op-ed is available here.

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