Photo by Nik Blaskovich/News-Press/Zuma Press
An investigation by federal regulators has shown that the ruptured petroleum pipeline that recently spilled 101,000 gallons of crude oil near Santa Barbara was allowed by its owner to corrode to just a small fraction of its original thickness. The Guardian reports that preliminary findings released on Wednesday by the federal pipeline and hazardous materials safety administration showed corrosion at the break site had degraded the pipeline to a thickness of just one sixteenth of an inch – less than 20% of its original thickness. To put that into perspective for you, one sixteenth of an inch is the thickness of an American nickel (5 cent piece).
The findings put the corrosion of the pipeline as the possible cause of the spill that happened on May 19, polluting beaches in the Santa Barbara area and creating a 9-mile-long slick of oil off the coast, in the Pacific Ocean.
According to Richard Kuprewicz, president of Accufacts Inc., a company that investigates pipeline incidents, an 80 percent loss of pipe thickness is acceptable – but beyond that things get tricky.
“There is pipe that can survive 80 percent wall loss,” Kuprewicz told the Guardian. “When you’re over 80 percent there isn’t room for error at that level.”
The line where the spill happened has been shut down indefinitely and senators from California have asked some tough questions of the operator, Plains All American Pipeline – including when and what it did after fire fighters uncovered the leak.
The pipeline is the only one of its kind in the country that did not have an auto shut-off valve, a right the owner won in a Santa Barbara county court several decades ago.