Congress probing California oil spill that blackened beaches

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Oil spill off coast of California
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Congress probing California oil spill that blackened beaches
In this May 28, 2015 photo from the County of Santa Barbara, a section of pipeline is removed at the point where it ruptured, spilling thousands of gallons of crude oil into the Pacific Ocean on May 19, polluting beaches and killing hundreds of birds and marine mammals north of Goleta, Calif. An engineer says photos of the pipeline that spilled oil on the Santa Barbara coast show extensive corrosion and provide clues about the rupture's cause. (Bruce Reitherman/County of Santa Barbara via AP)
In this May 28, 2015, photo from the County of Santa Barbara, a quantity of contaminated material remains in the bottom of a trench beneath where a pipeline ruptured, spilling thousands of gallons of crude oil into the Pacific Ocean on May 19, north of Goleta, Calif. Civil engineer Robert Bea says the amount of corrosion visible and the documented wear inside the pipe lead him to believe the pipe burst during a pressure spike when the operator restarted pumps that had failed earlier in the day.(Bruce Reitherman/County of Santa Barbara via AP)
FILE - In this May 21, 2015 file photo, a bird covered in oil flaps its wings at Refugio State Beach, north of Goleta, Calif. As thousands of gallons of crude oil from a ruptured pipeline spread along the California coast, its operator was unable to contact workers near the break to get information required to alert federal emergency officials, records released Wednesday, June 24, 2015 said. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
This photo provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shows oil-contaminated vegetation and trees on the south side of U.S. Highway 101 on Friday, June 12, 2015, after being contaminated by the Plains All-American 901 pipeline rupture near near Goleta, Calif. Restoration of the site, once all contaminated soil has been removed, will include replacing vegetation and trees.(Lisa McClain-Vanderpool/EPA via AP).
A worker cleans a small for oil contamination one rock at a time in areas affected by an oil spill at Refugio State Beach, north of Goleta, Calif., Wednesday, June 10, 2015. The cost of cleaning up the oil spill that fouled beaches last month on the California coast has reached $69 million so far, an official of the pipeline company said Wednesday. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Technique team members, left, evaluate oil coverage as a hand crew worker scraps areas affected by an oil spill at Refugio State Beach, north of Goleta, Calif., on Wednesday, June 10, 2015. The May 19 spill occurred after an onshore pipeline operated by Texas-based Plains All American ruptured. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Workers prepare an oil containment boom at Refugio State Beach, north of Goleta, Calif., Thursday, May 21, 2015. More than 7,700 gallons of oil has been raked, skimmed and vacuumed from a spill that stretched across about 9 miles of California coast, just a fraction of the sticky, stinking goo that escaped from a broken pipeline, officials said. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Rocks are covered with oil on the beach at Refugio State Beach, north of Goleta, Calif., Thursday, May 21, 2015. More than 6,000 gallons of oil had been raked, skimmed and vacuumed from a spill that stretched across 9 miles of California coast in a cleanup effort that is now going 24 hours a day, officials said, but that's just a fraction of the sticky, stinking goo that escaped from a broken pipeline. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
John Ziegler, of Pismo Beach, Calif, part of a group of citizen volunteers, hauls a bucket of collected oil up from the beach, north of Goleta, Calif., Wednesday, May 20, 2015. A broken onshore pipeline spewed oil down a storm drain and into the ocean for several hours Tuesday before it was shut off. (AP Photo/Michael A. Mariant)
A bird covered in oil flaps its wings at Refugio State Beach, north of Goleta, Calif., Thursday, May 21, 2015. More than 7,700 gallons of oil has been raked, skimmed and vacuumed from a spill that stretched across 9 miles of California coast, just a fraction of the sticky, stinking goo that escaped from a broken pipeline, officials said. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Crews from Patriot Environmental Services collect oil-covered seaweed and sand from the shoreline at Refugio State Beach, north of Goleta, Calif., Wednesday, May 20, 2015. A broken onshore pipeline spewed oil down a storm drain and into the ocean for several hours Tuesday before it was shut off, creating a slick some 4 miles long about 20 miles west of Santa Barbara. (AP Photo/Michael A. Mariant)
GOLETA, CALIFORNIA - MAY 20: Oil covers rocks on the beach near Refugio State Beach on May 20, 2015 north of Goleta, California. About 21,000 gallons spilled from an abandoned pipeline on the land near Refugio State Beach, spreading over about four miles of beach within hours. The largest oil spill ever in U.S. waters at the time occurred in the same section of the coast where numerous offshore oil platforms can be seen, giving birth to the modern American environmental movement. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
GOLETA, CALIFORNIA - MAY 20: Oil covers the sand at low tide near Refugio State Beach on May 20, 2015 north of Goleta, California. About 21,000 gallons spilled from an abandoned pipeline on the land near Refugio State Beach, spreading over about four miles of beach within hours. The largest oil spill ever in U.S. waters at the time occurred in the same section of the coast where numerous offshore oil platforms can be seen, giving birth to the modern American environmental movement. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
Crews from Patriot Environmental Services collect oil-covered seaweed and sand from the shoreline at Refugio State Beach, north of Goleta, Calif., Wednesday, May 20, 2015. A broken onshore pipeline spewed oil down a storm drain and into the ocean for several hours Tuesday before it was shut off, creating a slick some 4 miles long about 20 miles west of Santa Barbara. (AP Photo/Michael A. Mariant)
Crews from Patriot Environmental Services collect oil-covered seaweed and sand from the shoreline at Refugio State Beach, north of Goleta, Calif., Wednesday, May 20, 2015. A broken onshore pipeline spewed oil down a storm drain and into the ocean for several hours Tuesday before it was shut off, creating a slick some 4 miles long about 20 miles west of Santa Barbara. (AP Photo/Michael A. Mariant)
GOLETA, CALIFORNIA - MAY 20: Oil covers rocks on the beach near Refugio State Beach on May 20, 2015 north of Goleta, California. About 21,000 gallons spilled from an abandoned pipeline on the land near Refugio State Beach, spreading over about four miles of beach within hours. The largest oil spill ever in U.S. waters at the time occurred in the same section of the coast where numerous offshore oil platforms can be seen, giving birth to the modern American environmental movement. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
Plastic buckets filled with oil collected from the beach at Refugio State Beach, north of Goleta, Calif., Thursday, May 21, 2015. More than 7,700 gallons of oil has been raked, skimmed and vacuumed from a spill that stretched across 9 miles of California coast, just a fraction of the sticky, stinking goo that escaped from a broken pipeline, officials said. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
A clean-up worker removes oil from the beach at Refugio State Beach, north of Goleta, Calif., Thursday, May 21, 2015. More than 7,700 gallons of oil has been raked, skimmed and vacuumed from a spill that stretched across 9 miles of California coast, just a fraction of the sticky, stinking goo that escaped from a broken pipeline, officials said. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
A clean up worker heads to the shoreline while a larger group of workers begin clean up operations at Refugio State Beach, site of an oil spill, north of Goleta, Calif., Wednesday, May 20, 2015. A broken onshore pipeline spewed oil down a storm drain and into the ocean for several hours Tuesday before it was shut off, creating a slick some 4 miles long about 20 miles west of Santa Barbara. (AP Photo/Michael A. Mariant)
Workers prepare an oil containment boom at Refugio State Beach, north of Goleta, Calif., Thursday, May 21, 2015. More than 7,700 gallons of oil has been raked, skimmed and vacuumed from a spill that stretched across 9 miles of California coast, just a fraction of the sticky, stinking goo that escaped from a broken pipeline, officials said. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Clean up workers place shovels of oil-laden sand in bags while a larger group of workers begin clean up operations at Refugio State Beach, site of an oil spill, north of Goleta, Calif., Wednesday, May 20, 2015. A broken onshore pipeline spewed oil down a storm drain and into the ocean for several hours Tuesday before it was shut off, creating a slick some 4 miles long about 20 miles west of Santa Barbara. (AP Photo/Michael A. Mariant)
Clean up crews walk down the beach at Refugio State Beach, site of an oil spill, north of Goleta, Calif., Wednesday, May 20, 2015. A broken onshore pipeline spewed oil down a storm drain and into the ocean for several hours Tuesday before it was shut off, creating a slick some 4 miles long about 20 miles west of Santa Barbara. (AP Photo/Michael A. Mariant)
Clean up crews remove oil-laden sand on the beach at Refugio State Beach, site of an oil spill, north of Goleta, Calif., Wednesday, May 20, 2015. A broken onshore pipeline spewed oil down a storm drain and into the ocean for several hours Tuesday before it was shut off, creating a slick some 4 miles long about 20 miles west of Santa Barbara. (AP Photo/Michael A. Mariant)
GOLETA, CALIFORNIA - MAY 19: Spilled oil covers the beach at Refugio State Beach as the Channel Islands are seen in the distance on May 19, 2015 north of Goleta, California. About 21,000 gallons spilled from an abandoned pipeline on the land near Refugio State Beach, spreading over about four miles of beach within hours. The largest oil spill ever in U.S. waters at the time occurred in the same section of the coast where numerous offshore oil platforms can be seen, giving birth to the modern American environmental movement. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
This photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department shows an oil slick from a broken pipeline off the central California coast near Santa Barbara on Tuesday, May 19, 2015. Capt. Dave Zaniboni of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department says the pipeline on the land near Refugio State Beach broke Tuesday and spilled oil into a culvert that ran under the U.S. 101 freeway and into the ocean. (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)
GOLETA, CALIFORNIA - MAY 19: Spilled oil covers the beach at Refugio State Beach as the Channel Islands are seen in the distance on May 19, 2015 north of Goleta, California. About 21,000 gallons spilled from an abandoned pipeline on the land near Refugio State Beach, spreading over about four miles of beach within hours. The largest oil spill ever in U.S. waters at the time occurred in the same section of the coast where numerous offshore oil platforms can be seen, giving birth to the modern American environmental movement. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
This photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department shows an oil slick from a broken pipeline off the central California coast near Santa Barbara on Tuesday, May 19, 2015. Capt. Dave Zaniboni of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department says the pipeline on the land near Refugio State Beach broke Tuesday and spilled oil into a culvert that ran under the U.S. 101 freeway and into the ocean. (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)
This photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department shows an oil slick from a broken pipeline off the central California coast near Santa Barbara on Tuesday, May 19, 2015. Capt. Dave Zaniboni of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department says the pipeline on the land near Refugio State Beach broke Tuesday and spilled oil into a culvert that ran under the U.S. 101 freeway and into the ocean. (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)
This photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department shows an oil slick from a broken pipeline off the central California coast near Santa Barbara on Tuesday, May 19, 2015. Capt. Dave Zaniboni of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department says the pipeline on the land near Refugio State Beach broke Tuesday and spilled oil into a culvert that ran under the U.S. 101 freeway and into the ocean. (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)
This photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department shows an oil slick from a broken pipeline off the central California coast near Santa Barbara on Tuesday, May 19, 2015. Capt. Dave Zaniboni of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department says the pipeline on the land near Refugio State Beach broke Tuesday and spilled oil into a culvert that ran under the U.S. 101 freeway and into the ocean. (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)
GOLETA, CALIFORNIA - MAY 19: A boat with the nonprofit collective Clean Seas deploys a boom, with an oil platform seen in the distance, to try to contain an oil spill on May 19, 2015 north of Goleta, California. About 21,000 gallons spilled from an abandoned pipeline on the land near Refugio State Beach, spreading over about four miles of beach within hours. The largest oil spill ever in U.S. waters at the time occurred in the same section of the coast in 1969 where numerous offshore oil platforms can be seen, giving birth to the modern American environmental movement. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
GOLETA, CALIFORNIA - MAY 19: Campers leave the Refugio State Beach campground after it is closed because of an oil spill on May 19, 2015 north of Goleta, California. About 21,000 gallons spilled from an abandoned pipeline on the land near Refugio State Beach, spreading over about four miles of beach within hours. The largest oil spill ever in U.S. waters at the time occurred in the same section of the coast in 1969 where numerous offshore oil platforms can be seen, giving birth to the modern American environmental movement. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
GOLETA, CALIFORNIA - MAY 19: Local residents Josh Marsh and Morgan Miller (R) patrol the oil-covered beach for distressed wildlife on May 19, 2015 north of Goleta, California. About 21,000 gallons spilled from an abandoned pipeline on the land near Refugio State Beach, spreading over about four miles of beach within hours. The largest oil spill ever in U.S. waters at the time occurred in the same section of the coast in 1969 where numerous offshore oil platforms can be seen, giving birth to the modern American environmental movement. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
GOLETA, CALIFORNIA - MAY 19: Oil surrounds the feet of local resident Morgan Miller as he patrols the beach for oiled wildlife on May 19, 2015 north of Goleta, California. About 21,000 gallons spilled from an abandoned pipeline on the land near Refugio State Beach, spreading over about four miles of beach within hours. The largest oil spill ever in U.S. waters at the time occurred in the same section of the coast in 1969 where numerous offshore oil platforms can be seen, giving birth to the modern American environmental movement. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
GOLETA, CALIFORNIA - MAY 19: Officials walk along an the oil-covered beach as night falls on May 19, 2015 north of Goleta, California. About 21,000 gallons spilled from an abandoned pipeline on the land near Refugio State Beach, spreading over about four miles of beach within hours. The largest oil spill ever in U.S. waters at the time occurred in the same section of the coast in 1969 where numerous offshore oil platforms can be seen, giving birth to the modern American environmental movement. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
GOLETA, CALIFORNIA - MAY 19: Local residents Josh Marsh and Morgan Miller (R) patrol the oil-covered beach for distressed wildlife on May 19, 2015 north of Goleta, California. About 21,000 gallons spilled from an abandoned pipeline on the land near Refugio State Beach, spreading over about four miles of beach within hours. The largest oil spill ever in U.S. waters at the time occurred in the same section of the coast in 1969 where numerous offshore oil platforms can be seen, giving birth to the modern American environmental movement. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
GOLETA, CALIFORNIA - MAY 19: Spilled oil covers the beach at Refugio State Beach as the Channel Islands are seen in the distance on May 19, 2015 north of Goleta, California. About 21,000 gallons spilled from an abandoned pipeline on the land near Refugio State Beach, spreading over about four miles of beach within hours. The largest oil spill ever in U.S. waters at the time occurred in the same section of the coast where numerous offshore oil platforms can be seen, giving birth to the modern American environmental movement. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
GOLETA, CALIFORNIA - MAY 19: Officials walk along an the oil-covered beach on May 19, 2015 north of Goleta, California. About 21,000 gallons spilled from an abandoned pipeline on the land near Refugio State Beach, spreading over about four miles of beach within hours. The largest oil spill ever in U.S. waters at the time occurred in the same section of the coast in 1969 where numerous offshore oil platforms can be seen, giving birth to the modern American environmental movement. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
Local residents stand on oil covered rocks and sand at Refugio State Beach in Goleta, California, May 19, 2015. An oil pipeline ruptured dumping oil into the Pacific Ocean near Santa Barbara, California, the US Coast Guard said. The spill was estimated at 21,000 gallons (80,000 liters) of oil, local media reported. AFP PHOTO/ ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Officers from the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) set up a restricted area at Refugio State Beach after an oil spill in Goleta, California, May 19, 2015. An oil pipeline ruptured dumping oil into the Pacific Ocean near Santa Barbara, California, the US Coast Guard said. The spill was estimated at 21,000 gallons (80,000 liters) of oil, local media reported. AFP PHOTO/ ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Two trawlers lay yellow booms to contain an oil slick at Refugio State Beach in Goleta, California, May 19, 2015. An oil pipeline ruptured dumping oil into the Pacific Ocean near Santa Barbara, California, the US Coast Guard said. The spill was estimated at 21,000 gallons (80,000 liters) of oil, local media reported. AFP PHOTO/ ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Two brown pelicans fly low over the oil slick at Refugio State Beach in Goleta, California, May 19, 2015. An oil pipeline ruptured dumping oil into the Pacific Ocean near Santa Barbara, California, the US Coast Guard said. The spill was estimated at 21,000 gallons (80,000 liters) of oil, local media reported. AFP PHOTO/ ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Oil covers a local resident's boot at Refugio State Beach in Goleta, California, May 19, 2015. An oil pipeline ruptured dumping oil into the Pacific Ocean near Santa Barbara, California, the US Coast Guard said. The spill was estimated at 21,000 gallons (80,000 liters) of oil, local media reported. AFP PHOTO/ ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
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LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A congressional committee Thursday opened a probe into an oil pipeline rupture on the Central California coast that spread to the Pacific Ocean and washed up goo on beaches as far as 100 miles away.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee asked operator Plains All American Pipeline for detailed information on maintenance of the failed line, including how it addressed corrosion, and inspection records for five years.

The panel also wants the company to explain what it did in the hours leading up to the break near Santa Barbara, and how it reported the problem. The spill was estimated at up to 101,000 gallons.

The Texas-based company has faced criticism for how long it took to relay information to the federal government on the break, even though its internal planning documents repeatedly stress the importance of notifying the government of a leak as quickly as possible.

In a letter to Plains CEO Greg Armstrong, the committee said it wanted to understand the circumstances leading up to the break, as well as what steps the company had taken to maintain the integrity of the line.

The cause of the accident is being investigated by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Earlier this month, the agency released preliminary findings that said the break occurred along a badly corroded section that had worn away to a fraction of an inch in thickness. An estimated 21,000 gallons entered the ocean.

In a separate letter Thursday, the committee asked the pipeline administration for an update of what it called long overdue pipeline safety rules.

The panel said the California spill raised questions about the agency's oversight of pipeline safety, and added that the agency had failed to complete 17 of 42 requirements Congress outlined in 2011 to help the administration prevent spills.

The agency "has failed to reach important decisions and issue regulations concerning pipeline damage prevention, automatic and remote-controlled shut-off valves ... and accident and incident notification," the committee wrote.

Company officials this week said cleanup costs had reached $92 million.

Meanwhile, a Santa Barbara County beachfront property owner became the latest in a string of people to file proposed class-action lawsuits against the company. Alexandra Geremia's lawsuit, filed Tuesday, seeks to represent more than 3,000 other coastal landowners in Southern California against Plains All American for the spill.

Popular campgrounds have been closed, commercial fishing has been prohibited nearby, and nearly 300 dead marine mammals and birds have been found after the spill.

"Oil invaded ... beachfront properties, covering them with toxic crude, coating the shoreline, and clinging to rocks, sand, and the animals it touched," the lawsuit said. "Noxious odor of crude oil has permeated the air, drenched wildlife with oil, and left miles of previously pristine shoreline covered in thick black tar."

The lawsuit mirrors others filed this month in Los Angeles federal court that mention the number of spills Plains has had in the past decade and alleges the Texas company should have had automatic shut-off valves that could have prevented California's worst coastal spill in 25 years.

The pipeline is the only major one of its kind in the county without such valves because its original owner successfully sued decades ago, contending it was under the jurisdiction of federal regulators and not subject to county regulations.

Such valves aren't required under federal law, and Plains said an accidental shut-off could create pressure problems.

The company, which has reported 229 spills since 2006, has said it regrets the incident and is addressing claims filed against it. The company said it doesn't comment on pending litigation.

Three other lawsuits seeking class-action status have been filed by a commercial fisherman, a Santa Barbara shop owner and a tour guide. All said the spill had harmed their livelihood and that of others who earn a living from the sea or from the area's bustling tourist industry.

El Capitan State Beach and its campground, which have been closed since the spill, are scheduled to reopen Friday. Refugio State Beach is expected to be closed until at least July 9.

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