By Nick Diamantides
A City of Long Beach Parks and Recreation department crew accidentally ripped open an underground pipe carrying diesel on the afternoon of Thursday, Nov. 11, spilling about 1,500 gallons of the fuel at the location of a planned community garden.
The site, owned by the City of Long Beach, is part of a 50-acre parcel running south from the southwest corner of Spring Street and Orange Avenue. The City had considered developing a sports park there, but that plan was abandoned due to budget reductions.
Meredith Reynolds, a spokesperson for the City, explained what the parks crew was doing there last week. “The work on the site included weed and brush removal by the City’s maintenance staff, who were assisting in clearing the surface of a half-acre area in preparation for an approved urban farm on the property,” she said. “The urban farm is on hold pending clean-up activities.”
The pipeline is owned by British Petroleum (BP), which hired private contracting companies to repair the pipe and excavate the soil. “It’s a 10-inch pipeline primarily used to transport diesel fuel,” said Walter Neil, spokesperson for BP Refinery in Carson. “The pipeline goes from Carson Refinery to our Hyens Terminal at 5905 Paramount Boulevard, Long Beach, but it is also connected to our Hathaway terminal at 2350 Obispo Avenue, Signal Hill.”
According to Neil, the pipeline is part of BP’s “69 System,” which includes four pipelines capable of moving as much as 60,000 barrels of product per day. (There are 42 gallons in a barrel of oil.)
He said it is difficult to determine how much diesel normally passes through the damaged pipeline in a day, but it was not in operation when it was hit by the crew’s heavy equipment. “It was in a static condition, so the only pressure in the line was due to the product in the line,” he said. “We anticipate that about 35 barrels of diesel fuel spilled out after the break.”
Neil said that, in compliance with state code, the pipeline is four feet below the surface, but he didn’t know how many years ago the pipeline had been installed. “I think the crew got a little aggressive and went a little deeper than anyone had anticipated,” he said. “The real issue is that we had talked about the pipeline being in that area with the people doing the work long before this happened. They knew the pipeline was there.”
Neil explained that a contracting company hired by BP has removed all the dirt saturated with diesel and is storing it in bins until its proper disposal. The company is also collecting soil samples, which will be analyzed in a laboratory to ensure that all traces of the diesel spill have been removed.
According to Neil, after the accident, the pipeline itself was sealed upstream and downstream from the break, and all the fuel that was remaining in those sections was pumped out. Then, after also removing all vapors from the line, crews removed the broken area and welded in a new section connecting the severed sections. Neil said he does not know when the pipeline will be in operation again. “We want to make sure we have done everything safely and correctly before we put it back into use,” he said.
Nelson Kerr, acting manager for the City of Long Beach Bureau of Environmental Health, said the bureau’s hazardous materials division, which is on call 24 hours a day seven days a week, responded to the spill half an hour after it was reported. Kerr noted that although the City of Long Beach is taking the event very seriously, the spill is considered small and crews will only have to excavate about three feet below the pipeline to remove all contaminated soil. He added that the accident was reported immediately, and all proper precautions were taken thereafter. “This should be cleaned up within one or two weeks, and clean soil will be used to fill in the excavated area,” he said.
Seventh District Long Beach City Councilmember James Johnson said he is pleased with the way city staff handled the incident. “The park and recreation staff was there, and they created a berm to limit the amount of square footage the diesel was able to contaminate, and then very quickly the fire department was on the scene to make sure there was no fire risk and no danger to the public,” he said. He added that, soon after the fire department arrived, a contractor came and pumped out the diesel that had collected in the berm and removed it from the property. “Now the city is going to be analyzing the soil and seeing what we can do to make sure it is safe in the long run,” he said.
Johnson echoed Reynolds’s remarks about the urban garden, but added that, even before the contamination, the plan called for bringing in soil and establishing raised vegetable beds.
Neil said it is too early to know yet who would be incurring the cost of the repair and soil remediation. “At this point, the cost is secondary,” he said. “Our main focus is to get the work done safely and get the line back in service. After it’s done we can sit down and figure out costs.”
Several contractors are on site doing the work, all supervised through BP Pipeline Division.
By Nick Diamantides