Legislation Responds to South Bay Tar Ball Incident

Wednesday, February 17, 2016


Sacramento, CA – Today Senator Ben Allen (D – Santa Monica) introduced legislation, SB 1083, to strengthen oil spill contingency planning by requiring the Office of Spill Prevention and Response to add a communications element to the State’s Oil Spill Contingency Plan.  The legislation is intended to ensure that those leading oil spill cleanup efforts have a mechanism in place to distribute timely information to all affected communities, and to enable local governments and organizations to share critical information with the unified command.

SB 1083 is in response to findings that came to light at an oversight hearing of the Select Committee on the Refugio Oil Spill held last October in Manhattan Beach.  Eight days after the Refugio spill occurred in Santa Barbara County, tar balls from the ocean washed up on Los Angeles’ South Bay beaches causing their temporary closure and cleanup.  At the hearing, local residents complained about a lack of access to information surrounding the incident.

“We were concerned to hear from South Bay community residents that they received almost no information during the beach closure and tar ball cleanup process.  People were unaware that the tar balls were linked to the Refugio spill, and that Plains All American Pipeline was obligated to pay for the economic and environmental harm that was caused.  With this legislation, we are seeking to improve communications channels in future oil spill-related incidents,” Senator Allen said.

On May 19, 2015, a pipeline owned by Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline ruptured spilling nearly 101,000 gallons of heavy crude oil along the Gaviota coast in Santa Barbara County.  An estimated 21,000 gallons of the oil from the pipe went down a storm culvert, onto cliffs, and into the Pacific Ocean. On May 27th a tar-like substance washed up on Manhattan Beach, more than 100 miles south of the spill.  In response, Department of Fish and Game wardens responded, and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health closed an eight-mile stretch of South Bay beaches from El Segundo to Torrance Beach for two days as tar balls washed ashore, blanketing the sand.  Tar ball samples were tested and matched the Refugio Oil Spill.

In addition to requiring the inclusion of a communications element in spill response plans, SB 1083 prohibits anyone employed by the party responsible for the spill from serving as the public information officer for unified command or from having a role in developing or reviewing any communications to the media.  This provision stems from reports that employees of Plains All American Pipeline were allowed to control media and public access to the site of the Refugio spill in its aftermath.

This legislation is the latest in a series of actions put forward by Senator Allen and other legislators in response to the Refugio oil spill.  Those include the passage of legislation that required more frequent testing of pipelines (SB 295) of once per year by the State Fire Marshall, rather than the previous requirement of every 2 years or more; the Rapid Oil Response Act (SB 414) which makes oil spill response faster and more effective; and a bill that requires oil pipeline operators to use best available control technology to detect and prevent leaks.  Each of these measures coauthored by Senator Allen were signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in October.


#  #  #