December 4, 2022
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One year later, Plains still dragging feet over oil spill


Workers donned protective gear to clean up the Refugio oil spill.

Workers donned protective gear to clean up the Refugio oil spill.

Nearly a year after a Plains All American pipeline broke, spilling an estimated 123,270 gallons of oil into the Pacific Ocean and disrupting tourism along the California Coast, there has been little progress in resolving the underlying issues that led to the region’s biggest environmental disaster in decades.

Plains All American has proved adept at delaying and deferring its day of reckoning while it offers settlements to affected businesses that may require them to waive future rights.

Venoco, a proud member of the South Coast business community, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection — blaming the Plains break for cutting its path to market for its crucial offshore production.

Amid a mounting pile of litigation, communities as far away as Long Beach have alleged that oil fouled their beaches. And there’s not been anything like a rapid response from federal pipeline officials. At the end of the day, the pipelines involved with the 2015 spill may shift back to state oversight.

The two pipelines, 901, which runs along the shoreline, and 128-mile-long 903, which connects Santa Barbara production to Kern County processing stations, remain shut with little indication about when they will reopen. There are questions about whether large stretches of both will have to be dug up and replaced and how older parts of the pipeline will be monitored in the future.

Many are watching the criminal investigation announced with great fanfare by Attorney General Kamala Harris months ago. A finding of criminal wrongdoing would change the tenor of litigation and settlement discussions but so far there is no indication which way the politically savvy Harris, herself a candidate for U.S. Senate, will come down on the issue.

Small business owners who took it in the shorts during Memorial Day weekend a year ago have swallowed hard and recovered but some are still waiting to recoup losses. Plains continues with business-as-usual, running a mediocre operation, reserving for setbacks, relying on insurance coverage and then playing PR games when the going gets tough.

We have yet to see any senior official from Plains step forward and accept responsibility for the environmental tragedy. We don’t have a robust regime for federal pipeline regulation. And we’re at the very beginning of a long litigation battle to assess culpability and settle larger claims.

Stall, wait and litigate. That appears to be the enduring legacy of the biggest oil spill to afflict the Central Coast since the late 1960s.

A deal worth blocking

The current wave of business mega-consolidation appears to be over – at least when it comes to creating monopolies.

After green-lighting huge airline combinations and a grocery store hookup between Albertsons and Safeway that was a disaster for communities up and down the Central Coast, a federal court has blocked the combination of Staples and Office Depot.

That’s good news for small business owners who would have lost an important choice when it comes to purchasing the basics that run an everyday operation. Yes, there is Costco, and online shopping from Amazon, but preserving some element of competition on Main Street remains important.

Thanks for waking up, feds.