- Associated Press - Thursday, October 8, 2015

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - Gov. Jerry Brown signed three bills Thursday aimed at preventing oil spills, minimizing the damage they cause and speeding cleanups in the wake of a pipeline rupture that poured more than 100,000 gallons of crude on the Santa Barbara coast in May.

The bills introduced by Santa Barbara County Democrats include requirements that the state fire marshal inspect pipelines annually and that pipeline operators install the best spill-control technology, such as automatic shut-off valves.

Those bills address criticisms that arose after a badly corroded section of the Plains All American Pipeline ruptured underground and spilled oil onto Refugio State Beach and into the Pacific Ocean.

The pipeline, once regulated by the state marshal and Santa Barbara County, was under federal jurisdiction because it’s part of a larger interstate network of pipes.

“I do believe that if the pipeline that ruptured and caused the spill had been inspected annually, the corrosion would have been detected and we would have been able to prevent this spill,” state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson said.

The pipeline had just undergone thorough tests before the spill, though the results weren’t known at the time of the incident. It had previously been tested in 2012.

Because of a lawsuit against Santa Barbara County by the pipe’s original owner, it was the only transmission pipeline in the county not required to have an automatic shut-off valve. Texas-based Plains has said there are problems with that technology and it’s not required under federal regulations.

The spill spread a slick for miles across the ocean and tar balls from the spill were found more than 100 miles away on Los Angeles County beaches. Coastal campgrounds and beaches were closed and more 100 dead marine mammals, mostly sea lions, and nearly 200 dead birds were recovered.

“Our coastline and surrounding environments contribute to the great and unique landscape of California,” Brown said in a statement. “These bills improve planning for and prevention of oil spills and our response when spills occur.”

A third bill seeks to address criticisms that the cleanup response was too slow. It directs the state Office of Spill Prevention and Response to figure out how commercial fishing vessels could help with a more rapid response.

That bill will also require regulators to notify the state Legislature if caustic chemicals are used in a cleanup and how effective they were. Those chemicals, known as dispersants, were not used in the cleanup, though there was concern from many in the area that they would be used.

The cause of the spill is still under investigation by federal regulators. Local, state and federal prosecutors are also investigating.

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