Settlement addresses Suisun, Alameda, Donner Lake spills
WASHINGTON—Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, and SFPP, have agreed to pay nearly $5.3 million to resolve liability under the Clean Water Act, Oil Pollution Act, Endangered Species Act, and California’s Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act and Oil Spill Prevention and Response Act, for three oil spills in 2004 and 2005.
The settlement addresses the April 2004 123,774 gallon-spill at the Suisun Marsh in Solano County, the February 2005 76,902 gallon-spill at Oakland Inner Harbor in Alameda, and the April 2005 300 gallon-spill into Summit Creek that impacted waters in the pristine Donner Lake watershed in the Sierra Nevada Range in Placer County. The spills, on Kinder Morgan’s 3,000-mile Pacific Operations Unit pipeline system, discharged a combined 200,976 gallons of diesel fuel, jet fuel and gasoline into waters, sensitive ecosystems, and impacted endangered and other species, habitat and commercial uses.
The 116,000-acre Suisun Marsh is the largest salt-water wetland in the western United States. This sensitive habitat serves as a brooding area for water fowl and is home to the salt marsh harvest mouse – an endangered species. The discharged diesel fuel spilled into the marsh, caused petroleum tarring along the shorelines, and significantly impacted or killed mammals and birds, including the salt marsh harvest mouse.
“Our region is blessed with spectacular natural resources, including the Suisun Marsh and Donner Lake,” said U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott. “There must be an unyielding commitment by industry and environmental protection agencies to do everything feasible to prevent a repeat of such harmful spills as occurred in this case.”
The settlement includes a $3.7 million civil penalty, and $1.3 million to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Game to compensate for natural resource damages. In addition, Kinder Morgan has agreed to fund restoration projects, implement stringent oil spill prevention policies and re-designate pipelines in the eastern Sierras to apply additional precautionary measures that will minimize environmental risks and potential damage if future spills occur. Kinder Morgan has also agreed to hire ten additional “line-riders” who serve as the company’s pipeline inspectors.
“This settlement will translate into real on-the-ground environmental restoration in Suisun Marsh and Donner Lake, while also preventing future oil spills,” said Wayne Nastri, Administrator for the EPA’s Pacific Southwest region. “Improved maintenance and upkeep along Kinder Morgan’s 3000-miles of pipeline will better protect delicate ecosystems throughout the West. We could not have achieved this landmark settlement without strong coordination with our state and federal partners.”
The $3.7 million civil penalty includes a $1.5 million payment to the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, a combined $1.3 million to the San Francisco Bay and Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Boards, over $830,000 to the California Department of Fish and Game and nearly $15,000 to the Endangered Species Act Reward Fund.
“Enforcement of the federal laws protecting endangered species and their habitat is essential to conservation of those resources,” according to Susan Moore, Supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “This settlement helps restore the damaged resources and reduce the risk of future incidents.”
“The Department of Fish and Game is pleased that the coordinated efforts of the various agencies resulted in the settlement of these three cases,” said Lisa Curtis, the Spill Prevention and Response Administrator. “We look forward to implementing restoration projects that will benefit wildlife habitat and the many species harmed by these spills.”
In addition to the coordinated efforts of the EPA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the State of California, this settlement reflects several years of coordination between the EPA and the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. The EPA and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration shared concerns about the Pacific Operations Unit and the series of oil spills from this system that caused harm to water bodies and ecosystems.
“Many pipelines are near sensitive water bodies and must be monitored carefully. The Regional Water Boards’ pursuit of this settlement demonstrates our commitment to protecting and restoring California's waters. We will use the money paid to us for that purpose,” said Bruce Wolfe, executive director of San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board.
In April 2006, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration entered into a Consent Agreement with Kinder Morgan that ensures improved pipeline safety and helps prevent future oil spills. The EPA and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration coordinated closely to ensure that the concerns of both agencies were addressed properly and consistently through the 2006 Consent Agreement and the EPA’s enforcement efforts resulting in today’s settlement.
Oil spills are known to cause short and long term impacts to human health, wildlife and ecosystems. Oil in a water body can suffocate wildlife, adhere to the gills of fish, coat and destroy algae or other plankton and may interfere with photosynthesis. Oil slicks can kill birds, contaminate food sources, reduce breeding animals and plants, and contaminate nesting habitats. Oil spills can have lasting impacts and may persist in the environment for years.