The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Kristen Monsell, (914) 806-3467,

Analysis: Even Before Orange County Leak, California Pipeline Incidents Caused $1.2 Billion In Damages

Video Maps Nearly 1,400 Pipeline Leaks, Spills, Other Problems Since 1986


As Orange County beaches suffer a massive oil spill reportedly caused by an undersea pipeline linked to offshore drilling rigs, a new analysis reveals a troubling history of pipeline accidents in California.

Released today by the Center for Biological Diversity, the analysis found that since 1986, nearly 1,400 oil and gas pipeline leaks, spills and other incidents in the Golden State have caused at least $1.2 billion in damages, as well as 230 injuries and 53 deaths.

A new time-lapse video informed by the analysis maps every significant pipeline incident in California -- along with their financial costs and toll in injuries and deaths -- from 1986 to July of 2021. On average California has suffered 40 significant pipeline incidents a year, according to the federal data.

"The Orange County spill is a wake-up call on the risks of oil and gas pipelines, but these things have been wreaking havoc in California for decades," said Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director for the Center. "The leaks and spills and pollution go on year after year. These deadly and costly incidents will continue until we put an end to this dirty extraction business."

Today's analysis focuses on pipeline incidents since 1986, including spills, leaks, ruptures and explosions. It's based on records from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which maintains a database of all U.S. pipeline incidents classified as "significant" -- those resulting in death or injury, damages more than $50,000, more than five barrels of highly volatile substances or 50 barrels of other liquid released, or where the liquid exploded or burned.

Hundreds of miles of pipelines run through California's coastal areas. They transport oil and gas from drilling and fracking.

Today's analysis does not include the damage caused by the Orange County leak, which investigators believe came from a breach in an undersea pipeline linked to the Elly platform, an offshore rig built in 1980. The leak released an estimated 144,000 gallons of oil into the ocean, killing birds, fouling beaches and saturating the Talbert Marsh ecological reserve.

"Whether oil and gas pipelines are in the ocean or on land, they're basically time bombs," said Monsell. "This video shows how much damage they do to our coastlines and in our communities. That's one more reason why President Biden and Gov. Newsom must stop approving new fossil fuel projects and wind down existing drilling."


At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive.

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