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
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)
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 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: 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: 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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