PHMSA announces oil spill planning program workshop

In July 2011, when the NTSB issued its report on the Enbridge Line 6b spill, it recommended that the Secretary of Transportation audit the spill response plan review program at PHMSA, as it noted some shortcomings in the program.  That audit began approximately 2 years after the report was issued, and has yet to be released, as it has been undergoing “internal review” for at least a year.  

Last year, when the National Academies of Science issued its second report on the fate and effects of diluted bitumen when spilled into the environment, they made specific recommendations for improvements to PHMSA’s spill response planning program, some of which could have much broader effect beyond spill plans for pipelines carrying dilbit.  

Perhaps this is the beginning of PHMSA’s effort to undertake those regulatory changes?  Although if so, the announcement gives no indication of any causal relationship between published concerns with the existing program and this workshop.  

Published in the Federal Register today is a notice of a workshop on oil spill response planning to be held in Washington DC on APRIL 12 – Yes, that’s right, 2 whole entire weeks notice.  As of today, neither the notice nor the public meeting entry on PHMSA’s website contain any indication who will be presenting information at the meeting nor is there any background document included or referenced for the public to learn from or react to, although we are reassured that public comments are welcome before or after the workshop.  

You can register to attend in person or to watch the webcast on the PHMSA website here:  (Don’t be put off by the extensive list of nearby restaurants at the top of this meeting page.  There is a schedule of topics for the meeting (no names attached) at the bottom.)

From the Federal Register notice: 

PHMSA wishes to gather information about the efficacy of the oil spill response plan regulations. PHMSA is aware that regulated entities and members of the public have requested greater direction and regulatory interpretation. PHMSA is also aware that its oil spill response plan regulations do not fully align with the regulations of other federal agencies that have been delegated jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. 1321(j)(5). PHMSA is exploring ways to reduce redundancy, clarify language and improve efficacy of its oil spill response plan regulations.

PHMSA believes improving the response plan preparation and submission process is important for improving response actions, ensuring response capabilities, and minimizing harm to the environment. In particular, PHMSA is interested in collaboration with other jurisdictional federal agencies, operators, and oil spill response organizations.

Here’s the Federal Register notice: Federal Register | Oil Spill Response Planning Workshop
So, any of you who went through the Santa Barbara spill last year, watching the barefoot volunteer Home Depot bucket brigade clean oil off beaches where there were no operator or agency staff around because they spent the first day after the spill “planning” their response; from Montana, where the available valves were not closed to prevent much of the oil that spilled into the Yellowstone from reaching the river near Laurel; from Montana, where the town of Glendive wasn’t notified to shut down its drinking water supply until after the oil had reached its intakes, and most of the spill was unrecoverable under the ice of the Yellowstone; from Mayflower, Arkansas, where significant drainage into the lake was prevented by local public works employees building a makeshift dam at a culvert and no one was monitoring for air quality impacts in much of the affected area; or in Michigan, where Enbridge’s Line 6b ruptured and pumped dlibit into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River for 17 hours before being shut down, where cleanup has taken more than 5 years.  Or those of you in the upper midwest, worried about additional spills into your lakes, rivers, wetlands and muskeg where there aren’t access roads for response equipment.  Tune in to the webcast and comment.  I’m guessing your view of the “efficacy of the oil spill response planning regulations”  is a bit different than the voices PHMSA has invited to the workshop.  
If by the off chance someone feels strongly about this subject, has the time to attend, and has some expertise that would be beneficial for other workshop participants, the Pipeline Safety Trust has a fund to help pay for the travel costs associated with getting there and attending. Send Carl ( a short note telling him why you want to go, and perhaps we can help cover the costs.

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