Past PXP Spill Went Unreported For Weeks, Also Being Investigated

Fish & Game officials are also investigating a 2010 spill that went unreported until County inspectors spotted evidence in the Rio Hondo.

By Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou, EGP Staff Writer

An oil spill that contaminated storm drains and the Rio Hondo River tributary prompted a state agency to launch an investigation into the practices of a Montebello Hills oil field operator last month, but this was not the first time spills like this have occurred under the company’s watch.

Spills of crude oil and other byproducts affecting the environment have occurred on more than one occasion since Plains Exploration & Production Company, PXP, bought the Montebello Hills property from Chevron in 1997, according to documents obtained by EGP.

One of those spills almost flew under the radar. Two to three barrels of crude oil that spilled into the Rio Hondo river on Aug. 22 of last year went unreported for nearly three weeks, according to the documents.

Residents from surrounding communities visited the Bosque del Rio Hondo nature area this past Sunday to cool off in the hot weather. The oil spill occured just north of where this nature area is located. (EGP photo by Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou)

The spill was eventually reported to the Department of Oil, Gas, & Geothermal Resources, DOGGR, on Sept. 7 after a Los Angeles County vector control inspector “looking for mosquitoes… observed crude oil mixed with water in a gravel pool of Rio Hondo downstream of a storm drain discharge point,” according to a DOGGR report.

A representative of the Department of Fish & Game confirmed Wednesday they are in the middle of a “full investigation” into the 2010 spill. “The investigation is pretty big. That case is being thoroughly reviewed and everything is being looked at,” said spokesperson Alexia Retallack.

She says the case for this earlier spill is “complicated” – there are many “details to knock down, time lines to build… witnesses to corroborate.”

Meanwhile, Fish & Game officials are still determining if water pollution laws were violated during the latest spill in which 40 gallons of crude oil and 400 gallons “produced water,” also known as “brine water,” were let loose into the storm drains and the Rio Hondo.

Related stories: State Agency Is Investigating PXP Oil Spill in Montebello;
PXP Oil Spill in Montebello Hills Contaminates Storm Drains, Rio Hondo;
Montebello Oil Spill Clean Up In Progress (UPDATED)

“The warden in charge is expecting to present the information” about the earlier spill along with the recent spill in April to the District Attorney’s office, said Retallack, who reminded “everyone is innocent in the court of law until proven otherwise.”

According to the DOGGR report obtained by EGP, initially the earlier spill was thought to have amounted to less than a barrel, so it was not reported to the California Emergency Management Authority, Cal EMA. A barrel is the equivalent of 42 gallons and the spill was thought to have been 33 gallons, but turned out to two to three times larger.

On Aug. 22 the spill occurred through a “pinhole leak” on a flowline at the oil field, but there was “no indication that fluids had left the area and no clean-up was performed.”

The report also states 1.5 miles of a storm drain had to be steam cleaned, and both soil and water were removed from the Rio Hondo stream bed.

Last Thursday, DOGGR spokesperson Donald Drysdale said they have not yet, but “theoretically still could,” fine PXP as it is not considered “good oil field practice” to make late reports to Cal EMA.

He also said Cal EMA, the agency that handles the initial reports of hazardous materials spills, has “significant enforcement authorities to address noncompliance”

However a spokesperson for Cal EMA says spill reports in their databases do not indicate that the spill was reported late. They have not addressed whether they enforce late reporting of spills, but the agency typically only handles the intake spill reports and disseminates it to other agencies.

A Cal EMA spill report is immediately accessible by the public on the state’s website, but DOGGR’s spill occurrence report was obtained only through a public records act request. A copy of the DOGGR report detailing the 2010 spill has circulated among local environmentalists since as early as January.

DOGGR representatives said Tuesday they are “reviewing the occurrence” and had “nothing to add” beyond what Drysdale said last week.

Both the 2010 and the recent spill in April reached the Rio Hondo River by way of a storm drain. The latest spill got “into the storm drains because it is a liquid and flows like any other, including stormwater. The drains are there to capture liquid runoff,” said L.A. County Public Works spokesperson Bob Spencer.

He said there was a “similar leakage incident in September of last year, which resulted in us once again having to clean out the storm drain.” The main purpose of storm drains is to collect rainwater to prevent flooding, he said.

PXP spokesperson Scott Winters did not respond to EGP’s inquiries with details about how they dealt with the 2010 spill – instead he described how they typically respond to spills.

“During any emergency response involving a spill, PXP response personnel shut-in facilities, contain the release, initiate clean-up operations, and make the necessary agency notifications as established in PXP’s emergency response protocols,” he wrote in an email.

He said authorities signed off on their clean up efforts on Sept. 17, 2010.

In addressing a question about past spills, Winters said “PXP has ongoing maintenance, inspection and testing programs in the field. As any exception is identified, it is addressed through a process to continually improve environmental, health and safety performance results.”

The Rio Hondo River runs through a piece of unincorporated Los Angeles county located between Montebello and Rosemead and is part of the Whittier Narrows Natural Area. The recent spills affected a stream that runs past Marrano Beach, a recreational riverfront.

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May 5, 2011  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

Comments

One Response to “Past PXP Spill Went Unreported For Weeks, Also Being Investigated”

  1. Steve on May 5th, 2011 6:35 am

    I wonder if the spill in 2010 prompted San Gabriel water to conduct that water test on Los Amigos street in Montebello appox. 6 months ago. My neighbors and myself were asked to give tap water samples. I have not heard of the results.

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