LOS ANGELES (AP) — More than two months after oil from a ruptured pipeline fouled California beaches, newly released documents disclosed that the spill might have been far larger than earlier projected.
Plains All American Pipeline had estimated that the May 19 break along a corroded section of pipe near Santa Barbara released up to 101,000 gallons of crude. The resulting mess forced a popular state park to shut down for two months, and goo from the spill washed up on beaches as far as 100 miles away.
In documents made public Wednesday, the Texas-based company said alternate calculations found the spill might have been up to 143,000 gallons, or about 40 percent larger.
The company is continuing its analysis, and the figures are preliminary. Plains All American has hired an outside consultant as part of the effort to reconcile the differences, the documents said.
At this point, the company considers the methodology used in its initial estimate to be "the most straight forward and accurate calculation." However, it emphasized the estimate could change as the investigation continues.
In a statement, Sen. Edward J. Markey, D-Massachusetts, faulted the federal agency responsible for regulating the nation's pipelines for the conflicting figures.
"The revelation that the Santa Barbara pipeline spill was much larger than originally thought underscores the importance of our pipeline safety agency providing complete information to Congress and the American people. Unfortunately, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration's operational culture has been to withhold information from the American people and Congress," he said.
The company has been criticized for taking about 90 minutes to alert federal responders after confirming the spill, even though federal regulations require the company to notify the National Response Center, a clearinghouse for reports of hazardous-material releases, "at the earliest practicable moment." State law requires immediate notification of a release or a threatened release.
The cleanup is nearly complete, although the cause of the break is under investigation. The state attorney general and local prosecutors are considering possible charges, and the documents said the U.S. Justice Department is also investigating.
The company said it's covering legal costs for several employees who could be questioned by the Justice Department.
No timeline has been set to restart the pipeline.
CEO Greg Armstrong told Wall Street analysts in a phone call that the company faced as much as $257 million in potential costs from the break, which includes estimates for cleanup operations, possible legal claims and fines.
At the end of June, the company said cleanup costs had hit $92 million.
Wildlife officials reported that nearly 200 birds and more than 100 marine mammals were found dead in the spill area. Investigators have not yet determined what, if any, role the spill played in those deaths.
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