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Barnsdall Rio Grande Gas Station

ellwoodgasstationAfter an online push in January, with nearly 3,000 people signing a petition to save the old Elwood gas station, Ty Warner moved the project forward yesterday by donating the local landmark to the City of Goleta!

“The station should be preserved not only for it’s architectural significance, but as a monument to the historic Ellwood oil fields and the overwhelming impact of that industry on our area,” wrote Tom Modugno at the time of the petition. “Every day that passes, this beautiful structure falls further into disrepair and if our city leaders don’t act soon, it will be too far gone to save. Goleta is growing and changing faster than ever before, and the few reminders of our history we have left should be preserved for future generations.”


June Gloom in Santa Barbara, California

June gloom and May grey are more than a myth in Santa Barbara. The below graph from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography shows that May and June were are the months with the lowest percentages (59% and 58%) of sunshine respectively.
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Summer of 1985

Over the next few week Dan Seibert chronicles his time in Washington DC some 30 years ago this month. With election season around the corner, we thought it might be an interesting series.

Thirty years ago last week I boarded a Boeing 727 and flew to Washington National airport for a summer job with Congressman John McCain. Over the next two months I’ll be posting photos and entries from my journal.

“Landed after a bumpy plane ride, I never knew my hands could sweat so much. Bob Priest (my dad’s high school friend) picked me up and took me to the dorm on the G. W. U. campus. Fifth floor looking south towards the mall. Walked over to the Watergate building, they have a Safeway market, bought some food. Back to the dorm and joined other interns on the roof. That’s the common room with an outdoor patio. When we drove in I couldn’t believe how big the Washington Monument is. Now I know why they call him the “father of our nation.”

“Started work in the annex to the McCain office with Tom Brooke, legislative aide, and Torie Clarke, press secretary. In a space about the size of my current apartment I joined four other interns. Great times, Tina Turner was on top of her comeback, with Mad Max Thunderdome being released. Spent more time on the roof of the GWU dorm I was living in. Tiny view of the Mall. Oh the Mall, I was a few blocks from the Vietnam Vetran’s memorial and Lincoln Memorial. Started to soak up history.”

I Googled Tom Brooke’s name yesterday and found him in the first result.  I expected him to be governor of Virginia by now, but he’s still in the state working as an attorney.  Torie Clarke’s name might be familiar to some.  After working for McCain for several years she went on to work for Reagan and the first Bush administration.  On 9-11 she was the press secretary for the Pentagon.  I remember seeing her in a Vanity Fair photo of the second Bush advisors in the run up to the Iraq invasion.

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Slick and Dirty: A Local Mess

By Cheri Rae

cherilogo-150x150A year ago, the Los Angeles Times reported on a 10,000-gallon oil spill: “The leak was caused by a valve malfunction, and firefighters found a 20-inch break in an above-ground pipeline.” Sound familiar? It happened in Atwater Village in a diverse neighborhood near Griffith Park in Los Angeles.

The town’s streets were flooded with oil—knee-deep in some places—due to a ruptured pipeline that sprayed oil 20 feet into the air. The smell was so strong that individuals were confined to their homes; some were hospitalized. At least none of the oil spilled reached the nearby Los Angeles River.

The company responsible was identified as Plains All America.

It wouldn’t have taken much for any investigative reporter to look at the record of Plains All America just to see what kind of company it is, and where it operates. Especially an investigative reporter who lives in any place where oil is Big Business and pipelines are numerous. A place like Santa Barbara.

But investigative reporters are in short supply here, there and everywhere, especially in Santa Barbara, where they are all but nonexistent and our media situation has become downright discouraging.

I’m kicking myself now that I didn’t spend an hour or two back then, just looking up to see if Plains All America had any presence in Santa Barbara—maybe it would have helped shine a light on the company that created what the local television station has called the “Crisis on the Coast.”

As we now know, the Texas-based company has an abysmal record of pipeline spills all over the country, has received fines of more than $41 million to upgrade their operations, and yes, operates many miles of pipeline in in close proximity to a formerly pristine area of the California Coast—where two beautiful state parks have long been set aside to allow the public access to camping, hiking, and all sorts of water activities.

And we now know that the Plains All America pipeline was terribly corroded; it ruptured a quarter-mile inland and, unthinkably, flowed straight into the ocean.

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The more we learn about this mess is that it was an accident waiting to happen, and that the company charged with monitoring itself had every reason not to bother.

It’s interesting to watch the local outrage expressed against this Texas company that has shown so little regard for the local environment—and gotten a free pass while doing so.

But it’s hardly the first time this lack of oversight has occurred around here. Some years back, when I still believed in the power of the media to make a difference, I investigated a leaking underground storage tank, circa 1920 and contaminated soil found during the excavation work for the condos under construction on the site of the former St. Francis Hospital.

Although established protocol called for the Project Environmental Coordinator (PEC) to immediately notify the City and the County about the discovery, the findings were not reported in required daily and weekly records. In fact, the existence of the tank and the contamination were hidden for weeks—while the construction company brought in its own out-of-town experts to take a look at the situation and deal with it on its own.

You see, the City allowed the same corporation that was managing the project to be responsible for its environmental oversight. It happens all the time. When questions were raised about the environmental records that failed to mention the existence of the tank and its contamination, and brought to the attention to city officials, the inaccurate reports were glossed over, ignored and allowed.

The city planner on the project even acknowledged that the PEC did not properly report or monitor environmental conditions on the site, yet the City had no intention of investigating what went wrong or changing monitoring personnel or policies.

So excuse me if I’m a little cynical about local officials expressing their indignation about the actions of oil-rich Texans when they tolerate the same kind of skirting of the rules, and look the other way and allow local companies to conduct their own “oversight,” public and the environment be damned. It goes on all the time.

It’s been five years since I researched and reported about this stomach-turning behavior. It made no difference then, and it makes no difference now. The interests of Big Oil, Big Business and Big Government are just too powerful for we the people and our Little Media. Not much independent oversight actually protects our interests or our environment. By the time it all comes to the surface, it’s just too late.
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Photo Credits: Environmental Defense Center and The Trailmaster


Is the Brick Barrier Permanent?

lanesNine years after the Granada Garage opened, plastic pylons which were supposed to serve as temporary turning-lane devices, remain.

A temporary barrier around the “brick art thingy”, in front of the Hamburger Habit on State Street, was first spotted in April of 2014. After that, a more permanent black-link fence went up around the art installation, begging the question… is this now permanent?
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Sign of the Times in Santa Barbara

The mocking of Santa Barbara’s Sign Ordinance (PDF) hits the heart of State Street.
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“It is the intent of the City of Santa Barbara to limit the size, type and location of signs in order to minimize their distracting effect on drivers and thereby improve traffic safety. As identification devices, signs must not subject the citizens of the City to excessive competition for their visual attention. As appropriate identification devices, signs must harmonize with the building, the neighborhood and other signs in the area.”


Lawmakers Question Safety Record of Pipeline Company

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Sent to Greg Armstrong, Chairman and CEO of Plains Pipeline, LP, by Dianne Feinstein, United States Senator, Edward J. Markey, United States Senator, Lois Capps, Member of Congress.

Dear Mr. Armstrong:

imageThe devastating oil spill near Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County that discharged more than 101,000 gallons of oil will leave long-lasting and significant damage to sensitive coastal lands and wildlife. Given the Refugio State Beach incident, as well as Plains Pipeline having committed over one hundred safety violations in the past decade and having to spend millions in penalties for damaging the environment, we find your prior safety record troubling.

We are deeply concerned about the recent findings from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) that revealed that the pipeline that ruptured showed signs of extensive corrosion. We are also concerned about inconsistencies in the inspection reports about this pipeline, which raise questions about the safety of other pipelines that you operate. We ask that you immediately provide more information regarding Plains Pipeline’s response to this tragic spill – specifically about your oil spill response plans, the reliability of your inspection reports, your requirements for detection and notification of oil spills, your use of automatic shut-off valves, and about any safety upgrades stemming from your company’s prior oil incidents.

Prompt detection and communication of a pipeline failure is essential to an effective response and minimizing the impact of an oil spill. According to the corrective action order issued by PHMSA, Plains Pipeline employees detected anomalies in Line 901 at 11:30 a.m., discovered the failure at 1:30 p.m., and reported the incident to the National Response Center at 2:56 p.m. Based on this timeline of events, we are concerned that Plains Pipeline may not have detected this spill or reported it to federal officials as quickly as possible. New reports also indicate that Plains Pipeline initially stopped pumping after the anomalies were first detected, but then resumed pumping about 20 minutes later. Any delay in detecting or reporting this spill, or shutting down the pipeline could have exacerbated the extent of the damage to the environment.

We are also concerned that the ruptured pipeline reportedly did not have an automatic shut-off valve, which can swiftly react to a loss in pressure, and significantly decrease the volume of oil or gas released in a pipeline failure. After the tragic San Bruno pipeline explosion in 2010, we proposed several pipeline safety provisions that were enacted into law, including a requirement that automatic or remotely controlled shut-off valves be installed on both new pipelines and old pipelines being replaced. This technology has long been recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board, and we would like to ensure that it is fully deployed to mitigate disasters like this one.

In light of these distressing facts, we ask that you provide us with the following information in writing by the close of business on June 19, 2015.

Please provide an unredacted copy of Plains Pipeline’s spill response plan for Line 901. When was this spill response plan approved by PHMSA? What is the maximum spill detection and shutdown time for Line 901 outlined in the spill response plan approved by PHMSA?

According to the original corrective action order issued by PHMSA, Plains Pipeline employees detected anomalies in Line 901 at 11:30 a.m., discovered the failure at 1:30 p.m. and reported the incident to the National Response Center at 2:56 p.m. While we understand that this question may be part of PHMSA’s investigation, please provide whatever information you have as to why this release of oil was not reported to the National Response Center for 1 hour and 26 minutes after it was visually confirmed by Plains employees and 3 hours and 26 minutes after anomalies were first detected?

According to documents provided by your company, a Plains Pipeline Control Room employee saw abnormalities in the line and shut it down at approximately 11:30 a.m. However, subsequent reports note that Control Room operators originally shut down pumps on the line, restarted them about 20 minutes later, and shut down the pumps again after finding the pumps had failed. When did Plains Pipeline personnel first discover abnormalities in Line 901? How long after first discovering these abnormalities was Line 901 shut down (both initially and permanently)? Why did you resume pumping when there was potentially a larger problem, and who approved the restart of Line 901? What factors contributed to the decision to shut down the line a second time?

According to documents provided by your company, an employee traveled to the site and visually confirmed the release of oil at 1:30 p.m. While we understand that this question may be part of PHMSA’s investigation, please provide whatever information you have as to why it took roughly two hours to visually confirm the existence of a release of oil?

According to PHMSA, the affected pipeline was recently inspected using a smart pig on May 5, 2015, but the report had not yet been provided to Plains Pipeline at the time of the incident. How long does Plains Pipeline typically provide for vendors performing in-line inspections to provide a report of the results, which may show corrosion or other anomalies that could potentially lead to spills? Please provide a copy of the final results of this in-line inspection report either accompanying your response to this letter or when it is provided to you.

Preliminary results from your May 5 inspection reported corrosion metal loss of 45 percent in the area of the rupture, but third party investigators have revealed that 82 percent of the pipe’s thickness had actually worn away (down to 1/16 of an inch) instead. Please explain how there can be such large inconsistencies in these measurements. Does the inconsistency of these measurements raise further concern for the safety of the remainder of this pipeline and other pipelines that you operate in the area?

Please confirm that Line 901 was not outfitted with an automatic shut-off sensor system. If such a system was not in place, will Plains Pipeline be installing such a system on Line 901 after the pipeline is excavated, inspected, and replaced? If not, why not?

According to information on Plains Pipeline’s website, your company operates 17,800 miles of active crude oil and natural gas liquid pipelines and gathering systems in the United States and Canada. How many miles of crude oil and natural gas liquid pipelines and gathering systems does Plains Pipeline operate in the United States? How many of these pipelines in the United States are equipped with automatic shut-off valves?

According to news reports, your company has had one of the worst safety records of any pipeline company, with 175 safety and maintenance violations since 2006 that have spilled more than 16,000 barrels of oil that have caused more than $23 million worth of property damage. Please provide the amount of money Plains Pipeline has spent on pipeline safety improvements in each year for the past 10 years and any additional steps Plains Pipeline is taking to improve safety on the pipelines it operates.

In 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Justice Department announced that Plains would spend approximately $41 million on upgrades to oil pipelines operated in the United States, stemming from Clean Water Act violations for oil spills in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Please provide a complete description of how these funds were allocated and whether any of these funds were used to upgrade the Line 901 pipeline near Santa Barbara, or any other pipelines operated by Plains within the State of California. If these funds were used to upgrade Line 901 or other pipelines in California, please describe what upgrades were made and the pipelines involved.


Twilight Over Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara photo of the week by Bill Heller, click to enlarge.
Twilight Over Santa Barbara
Evening view from the Santa Barbara County Courthouse Clock Tower where construction continues to make the tower more accessible. In the very near future everyone will be able to easily enjoy the view from the top. In the mean time, however, the trek to the top for this shot was even more of a walk than normal. With no elevator at all you start to appreciate really how tall the clock tower is. Currently the tower is still closed to the public, but the major elevator work is nearing an end with the opening at the top already complete.

-Bill Heller


EcoFacts: Santa Barbara Drinking Water

Column by Barbara Hirsch
My journey to find drinking water that I can really enjoy:

faucetIf it isn’t obvious, I cannot buy water in plastic bottles unless forced to, not liking plastic or BPA or the business of it. I do not like the taste of Santa Barbara tap water, nor do I like its chlorine. I admit to buying water from the corner market water dispensers in my 3 gallon glass bottles. But I live in droughtland and have learned a few things, way too late, about that water. Having had some good tasting filtered tap water at a super eco friend’s place, I decided to make the change, but how best? The research began.

Concerns in water are these: mineral content, pH, pathogens, chlorine, fluoride, pesticides, arsenic, lead, mercury, chemicals and more.

Municipal water systems generally produce safe drinking water, usually with the help of chlorine, as does ours here in SB. But we don’t have heavy industry and crop spraying affecting our rain, lake and groundwater as some areas do.

Reverse osmosis (RO) water is what you get from those big dispensers where zillions fill their 1 or 5 gallon bottles. Also those under the counter home systems that have two to four cartridges which are not recyclable and need regular replacing. These systems waste from 1 to 10 gallons for every gallon we drink !!!. They do remove most contaminants, but the good things in tap water – minerals – are also removed, and the water becomes more acidic. Demineralized acidic water is unhealthful. If we’re to drink many glasses of it daily, that is just silly.

The simpler carbon filter systems – faucet or pitcher, like Brita – improve the water, but the filters must be replaced frequently and unless you want to send them in for recycling, think about the number of them in the landfill!

I recently decided that I had to go the filtered tap route – without RO.  I’ve purchased a Berkey gravity fed system that is so effective at purification, it can actually purify pond water, but leaves the minerals in. The filters can be used for thousands of gallons of water. So if our city water system gives out for some catastrophic reason or other, you can all come on over, just bring your pond.