For Immediate Release, April 15, 2020


Kristen Monsell, (510) 844-7137,

Trump Administration Moves to Weaken Oil Pipeline Spill Rules

WASHINGTON— The Trump administration proposed weaker new rules today governing how companies operating oil pipelines prepare for and respond to oil spills. The changes would eliminate or modify several key protections and relieve companies of the responsibility for reporting many oil spills.

It’s the latest move by the administration to weaken regulations on fossil fuel companies while most of the country is locked down by the COVID-19 public health crisis.

“While people are sick and distracted, Trump’s making oil pipelines more dangerous and companies less accountable,” said Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s disgusting that officials are using one public health threat to create another. It could make the oil pipelines that crisscross our country more likely to create larger oil spills.”

Lack of an immediate response to the 2015 Plains All American Pipeline Oil Spill near Santa Barbara was one of the charges for which a jury found Plains Pipeline criminally liable in 2018. That 120,000-gallon spill killed hundreds of birds and marine mammals and blackened beaches in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

“These changes risk making it easier for Plains Pipeline to create another devastating oil spill near Santa Barbara,” Monsell said.

Today’s proposal from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration would reduce the types of pipelines required to develop oil spill response plans and lower the threshold for reporting spills.

The proposed rule would also allow pipeline operators to ignore historical discharges in developing a worst case discharge scenario, eliminate special requirements for onshore pipelines likely to cause significant environmental harm given their proximity to waterways and shorelines, and allow operators to wait to develop an oil spill response plan until after a pipeline is constructed.

Plains Pipelines’ spill shuttered seven offshore drilling platforms served by its pipeline. Plains has applied to build a new pipeline in the same location to bring offshore wells back online. ExxonMobil is also seeking permits to restart its three offshore platforms and transport that oil by tanker trucks along California highways. Santa Barbara County is set to consider approving both projects this summer.

Oil pipelines regularly fail in California. Federal pipeline data show there were 875 pipeline incidents in California from 2000 through 2019, causing 115 injuries, 29 fatalities and more than $1 billion in property damage.

That data also shows there were 12,313 pipeline incidents from 2000 to 2019 nationwide, causing 1,231 injuries, 309 fatalities and over $9.4 billion in property damage.

A Center analysis of federal pipeline datafound pipeline failures are most common after 30 years and shortly after they’re completed, as a result of faulty welds and other construction-related problems.

Oil and gas pipelines are inherently dangerous, as our new video shows. MP4 video is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.