California oil line fixed after thousands of gallons spill

TRACY — Crews have repaired an oil pipeline that broke days ago and spilled up to 21,000 gallons of crude underground in rural Northern California, a spokesman for Shell Oil Co. said Tuesday.

The company was running small amounts of oil through the pipeline to test it as crews worked to clean up the spill in remote, undeveloped countryside near Tracy, about an hour east of San Francisco, Shell spokesman Ray Fisher said.

Oil was visible over about a 250-foot-by-40-foot stretch of land, but none of it spilled into waterways, Miryam Barajas, a spokeswoman with the state Water Resources Control Board, said Tuesday.

Additionally, groundwater reserves in the area of the spill are relatively deep, lessening the risk of contamination of underground water supplies, Barajas said.

A company command center noticed a problem with the pipeline on Friday morning and shut it down within a minute, Fisher told The Associated Press. Shell believes a crack of up to 20 inches opened in the line, which is about 7 feet underground.

The company notified state and local agencies of the break within two hours, Fisher said.

“The fact it’s already been repaired speaks to the expedience” with which Shell handled the break, he said.

State water board officials were in contact with local officials about the spill Friday morning, said Barajas, the water board spokeswoman.

Environmentalists are assessing the threat from the spill, including what wildlife could be affected, Patrick Sullivan, a spokesman for the Center for Biological Diversity, told The Associated Press.

In scale and threat, the release was “certainly nothing like the Santa Barbara spill” last year, when more than 120,000 gallons of oil from a broken pipeline flowed onto scenic coastline, Sullivan said.

Even so, authorities should investigate to see if poor maintenance contributed to the break and if other stretches of the same pipeline might also be at risk of rupture, Sullivan’s group said in a statement.

“A spill involving thousands of gallons of oil can’t be shrugged off like it didn’t happen,” the environmental group said.

The Santa Barbara spill was California’s biggest oil spill in recent years, fouling beaches and killing hundreds of birds and marine mammals. The oil plume spread 9 miles into the Pacific Ocean, and tar balls washed ashore more than 100 miles away in Los Angeles County.

Federal regulators said this month that the pipeline company responsible for that break, Plains All American Pipeline, failed to prevent corrosion in its pipes, detect the rupture or respond swiftly as crude streamed toward the ocean.

The company was indicted this month on 46 criminal counts, including four felonies of polluting state waters and three dozen misdemeanors of harming wildlife. Houston-based Plains has apologized for the Santa Barbara spill but said it would not comment further.

CaliforniaMiryam Barajasoil pipelineOil spillSan FranciscoShell Oil Co.TracyWater Resources Control Board

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