Prepared Oral Testimony of Patrick Hodgins – June 26, 2015










JUNE 26, 2015


Chairman Williams, Senator Jackson, Assemblyman Stone:


Good afternoon, my name is Patrick Hodgins, senior director of Safety and Security at Plains All American Pipeline. For much of this response, I have been serving as the Plains incident commander and representative to the Unified Command established for the Refugio Incident. Thank you for providing me with the opportunity to speak with you today.


On behalf of the 350 Plains employees that work here in California – and the more than 5,500 that work in North America –we are sorry this release occurred. The sight of oil from our pipeline on the beautiful beaches in this area turned our stomachs. It pains us to see wildlife that has been impacted by oil from our pipeline.  Even one animal impacted is too many.


We share the desire to restore impacted areas as quickly as possible.  And we share the desire to fully understand why the release occurred and what steps can be taken to make sure something like this does not happen again.


We feel horrible about what has happened, and we are committed as a company to make things right.  Although this was an accident, we fully recognize that we are the responsible party.  We have not and will not shy away from that responsibility.


Our Chairman and CEO has said from Day One of this incident that we will do the right thing and do it quickly.  Consistent with our safety culture we have also tried to do things in an open and candid fashion, and we welcome a fact-based dialogue regarding any questions related to this incident. With that in mind, I would like to touch on a few topics with my opening remarks, and then I will be happy to take your questions.

The topics I would like to briefly discuss include:

  • ·         Our commitment to the response effort
  • ·         The timeline on the day of the release
  • ·         Some facts and context regarding our safety record and commitment to safe operations
  • ·         Some facts regarding automatic shut-off valves and liquid pipelines


I would like to start by talking about our commitment to making this right and restoring the area to its natural condition.  We have devoted significant resources towards this goal and will continue to do so.


Since the date of the release, the number of personnel working on the beach and in the command center on the response effort has ranged from 280 to 1400 people and has exceeded 1,000 people for 18 out of the 38 days since the release. The day after the release we had 10 vessels on the water, and the number peaked at 24 vessels.


Through Thursday of this week we estimate that we have spent approximately $96 million on the spill response and clean-up effort.  Although 94 percent of the impacted shoreline has reached its end-point clean-up objective, we recognize that the last 6 percent will be the hardest. I assure you that we will stick with this cleanup until it is done.


Regarding the timeline, the sequence of events on the day of the release is being thoroughly analyzed and evaluated by PHMSA and others.  Because of that, there are limitations to our ability to address certain specifics.


However, with that said, in an effort to be as transparent as we can at this point, we provided additional details to your offices earlier this week.  Please allow me to review a few of the key points from these materials.  All times I reference are approximations and are Pacific time.


On May 19, at 11:30 a.m., the Las Flores pump was remotely shut down by the Plains Midland control room, meaning that no more oil was pumped into the line from that time forward.


At 11:42 a.m., the Santa Barbara County Fire Department received a 911 call regarding an odor.


Just after noon, State Parks staff were alerted to the 911 call and attempted to locate the source of the odor. At around the same time, representatives from Plains Pipeline, the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management and the Santa Barbara County Fire Department were attending a previously scheduled spill drill hosted by the local industry.


Shortly before 12:30 p.m., Santa Barbara County Fire Department personnel notified the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management representative at the spill drill that oil was on Refugio State Beach.  At this time the drill was cancelled, and representatives of Plains Pipeline and the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management traveled to the beach.


At 12:43 p.m., the National Response Center (NRC) received notification of the spill, according to their records. The California Office of Emergency Management received notice of the spill from the Santa Barbara Fire Department at approximately the same time.


Shortly thereafter, representatives from Plains Pipeline and the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management visually confirmed there was oil on the water. It was not readily apparent from their vantage point near the beach that the oil originated from Line 901.  The line is located up-slope, on the other side of the highway and railroad tracks, and oil was not seen running down the slope, across the highway or across the railroad tracks.


Once Plains Pipeline and Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management personnel confirmed that there was oil on the water, two Plains Pipeline employees left to ride the Line 901 right-of-way to determine if Line 901 was the source of the released oil.


At approximately 1:25 to 1:30 p.m., the Plains Pipeline employees confirmed that the release originated from Line 901.  Both employees made various calls by cell phone to mobilize resources, make notifications and coordinate activities. In addition, a Plains employee attempted to build a makeshift berm with his shovel to prevent additional oil from getting to the culvert and was subsequently assisted in this effort by Santa Barbara Fire Department personnel.


Plains Pipeline personnel in our Bakersfield office also began to make notifications to regulatory agencies, and it appears that several of these calls duplicated calls made by other responding agencies. At 2:56 p.m., an employee in our Bakersfield office called the NRC.


Within the first few hours, specialized vacuum trucks were at the site of the release, and oil recovery skimmer vessels were on the water, removing as much oil from the environment as possible. 3,000 feet of booms were deployed to protect the shoreline and to prevent oil from migrating further and personnel were on the ground.


Within 24 hours a Unified Command structure, initially involving the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. EPA, California Fish and Wildlife, the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management and Plains personnel, was established. Unified Command began to establish objectives and coordinate and manage the emergency response taking into account the pre-determined Santa Barbara County area contingency plan for oil spills.


While no one ever wants an event like this to happen, we are diligently working to mitigate the impact of this unfortunate incident, and we are thankful for the efforts of our employees, the first responders, the volunteers and the federal, state and local agencies that joined Unified Command in the cleanup effort over this past month.

I want to underscore the role of the volunteers. The passion the volunteers brought to their training and work – cleaning the beaches – speaks volumes about the character of this community.


Let me turn now to our safety record. We have a goal of zero incidents, and we work very hard –
and spend significant amounts of resources – towards achieving that goal. Unfortunately, however, accidents do happen, and that is why we also prepare and plan for our response to incidents like this.


There have been various reports about the number of incidents that we have reported to PHMSA. I would like to provide some context to those figures. Plains All American Pipeline moves a significant portion of the energy resources upon which our nation relies. We operate nearly 18,000 miles of pipelines and handle approximately 170 million gallons – roughly the equivalent of one-fourth of the amount of crude that reaches U.S. refineries each day. We are larger than 99% of the entities that report similar incidents to PHMSA.


The number of incidents includes releases as low as five gallons and includes releases within the fence-line of our facilities even if the release was captured in containment areas designed for that purpose. As a result of our maintenance and integrity investments, releases on our PHMSA-regulated pipelines have declined by 74 percent since 2006.  Incidents involving five barrels or more have declined by 82 percent.


Since 2007, we have invested more than $2.3 billion on the maintenance and integrity of our assets. In addition, we have spent $390 million on capital projects specifically designed to enhance the integrity of our asset base. This includes replacing or paralleling pipelines that have been de-rated. Although the pipeline incident trend is favorable, our focus remains on zero incidents, and we will continue to make investments in our maintenance and integrity management programs.


With respect to Automatic Shut-off Valves, we work diligently to utilize appropriate equipment on our pipelines.  Line 901 is equipped with one check valve and three remotely-controlled, motor-operated valves. The three remotely-controlled valves are operated by our Midland Control Center via a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition, SCADA, system and can be closed
with the simple push of a button.


There has been a fair amount of discussion around automatic valves.  A 2013 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report also studied automatic shutoff valves.  The researchers found that none of the hazardous liquid pipeline operators they interviewed considered using or typically installed automatic-shutoff valves because, “…an unexpected valve closure can result in decompression waves in the pipeline system, which might cause the pipeline to rupture.”[i]


Furthermore, PHMSA commissioned an Oak Ridge National Laboratory study on both automatic and remote-controlled shutoff valves. That study found that although the installation of automatic shutoff valves was technically feasible in newly constructed or fully replaced liquid pipelines, it warned that an inadvertent closure of an automatic shutoff valve “…could result in pumping against a closed valve or initiate undesirable … effects capable of damaging equipment.[ii]


Please note that applicable federal regulations do require natural gas pipeline operators to consider the use of automatic shut-off valves but do not require liquids pipelines to do so. For this reason, none of the approximately 18,000 miles of liquids pipelines operated by Plains throughout North America have automatic shut-off valves.


In conclusion, as I mentioned in the beginning, on behalf of the employees and management team of Plains, we sincerely regret this incident occurred. We apologize for the impact this incident has caused. Our staff has been on scene since the outset, and we will remain here – actively engaged – until the cleanup is completed to the satisfaction of everyone involved with Unified Command.  And we will not restart the pipeline until we and our federal regulators are assured of its integrity.


Thank you for your time.  I would now be happy to answer your questions.



[i] Pipeline Safety: Better Data and Guidance Needed to Improve Pipeline Operator Incident Response, United States Government Accountability Office, January 2013, p. 26.

[ii] Studies for the Requirements of Automatic and Remotely Controlled Shutoff Valves on Hazardous Liquids and Natural Gas Pipelines with Respect to Public and Environmental Safety, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, October 31, 2012, p. 172.