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California to Shell: Replace Fractured Pipeline

Cause of pipe failure thought to be pressure cycling

August 08, 2017
California calls for repairs to San Pablo Bay Pipeline

After two crude oil spills on Shell’s 177-mile-long San Pablo Bay Pipeline in California, the Office of the State Fire Marshal’s Pipeline Safety Division is requiring Shell to replace 12 miles of underground pipe that had suffered fatigue cracks.

According to KQED News, the two spills leaked 60,000 gallons of crude oil, some of which seeped 10 feet into the ground.

Inspectors say the pipe's cracks are due a practice called pressure cycling. Pressure cycling refers to the fluctuations that occur during the course of operations such as starting and stopping pumps, and move crude oil products with varying densities and viscosities. The California fire marshal has asked Shell to review all of its California pipelines that switch between different pressure levels to see if they need more frequent inspections. The state agency also wants to know whether the company can reduce the practice of pressure cycling.

The cost to clean up the spills. which happened in September 2015 and May 2016, was more than $6 million.

Groups are pressing for Shell to be fined for the spills, but state law allows the oil companies operating in California to police themselves. California state regulators recently ordered that companies hired by the oil industry to inspect pipelines are now required to send the results of those tests to the fire marshal’s office before they are sent to the line operators.

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