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Plains All American's pipeline replacement faces environmetal groups' opposition 

As Plains All American Pipeline prepares to make the case for its proposal to replace more than 100 miles of oil pipeline across three counties, environmental groups are gearing up to fight against its approval.

If approved, the project would allow the company to replace 123 miles of existing pipeline through SLO, Santa Barbara, and Kern counties. Once completed, the pipeline would again be able to transport crude oil from offshore drilling platforms. The pipelines and the platforms have been shut down since May 2015, when a pipeline rupture released 142,800 gallons of crude oil along the coast near Gaviota.

click to enlarge PIPELINE PROJECT A proposed project to replace 123 miles of oil pipeline in three counties, including SLO and Santa Barbara, is receiving both support and opposition. - FILE IMAGE COURTESY OF PLAINS ALL AMERICAN
  • File Image Courtesy Of Plains All American
  • PIPELINE PROJECT A proposed project to replace 123 miles of oil pipeline in three counties, including SLO and Santa Barbara, is receiving both support and opposition.

"Our desire is to replace the line versus repairing the existing line, and that will allow the platforms, which Exxon currently owns, to come back online and transport the oil," said Steve Greig, the director of governmental affairs for Plains All American.

The project is still a long way from approval and will need to go through public hearings and an environmental review process at local and federal levels. Environmental groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club, have promised to oppose the project.

"Offshore drilling is dirty and dangerous and needs to be phased out from California's Central Coast," Blake Kopcho, an organizer for the Center for Biological Diversity, told New Times.

Greig emphasized that the project would not result in any new oil production and would only bring the existing facilities back online. He also said the project included a number of measures to improve the safety of the pipeline and prevent spills, including lowering the pipeline's operating pressure, doubling the number of cutoff valves, and increasing the pipeline's wall thickness in certain areas.

"We understand the communities and the importance of the Pacific Ocean, and we agree that we want to protect the environment," Greig said.

Those measures aren't reassuring enough for opponents of the project. Kopcho noted that Plains All American was found guilty on multiple criminal counts in connection with the 2015 spill.

"While we appreciate their efforts to make the pipeline safe, we know that at the end of the day spills are impossible to completely prevent," he said. "Plains doesn't deserve a second chance to spill again."

Both sides of the issue were on full display on Jan. 29 at the South County Regional Center in Arroyo Grande where Plains All American hosted the first of three open-house-style events on the project, allowing members of the community to talk with company officials. Outside of the event, opponents of the project gathered to protest, handing out flyers that detailed their concerns.

The open house comes after several high-profile battles over oil have already taken place on the Central Coast. In 2017, SLO County rejected a proposal by Phillips 66 to build a rail spur at its refinery on the Nipomo Mesa. In 2018, local environmental groups placed a measure to ban fracking and new oil and gas exploration in the county, but it did not pass. Earlier this year, the SLO City Council approved a resolution opposing both the pipeline project and a proposal from ExxonMobile to truck oil through Santa Barbara County.

In Santa Barbara County, the Board of Supervisors in early 2018 approved plans by ERG Operating Comapny to build more than 2 miles of pipeline in Cat Canyon. Currently, the county is conducting a comment period for a draft environmental review on a proposal by Aera Energy to redevelop oil in East Cat Canyon.

Environmental review scoping hearings for Plains All American's project are slated to begin later this month. Both supporters and opponents of the project will likely participate to make their cases.

"There will be enviromental study and analysis done," Greig said, "and at the end of the day, the decision makers will have the ability to make a determination on the merits of the project." Δ

Staff Writer Chris McGuinness can be reached at cmcguinness@newtimesslo.com.

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