Emergency response, Spill Response & Prevention


Both natural gas and hazardous liquid pipeline operators are required to have emergency response plans for times when something abnormal happens during the operation of the line.  Hazardous liquid operators are also required to have spill prevention and response plans. 

All pipeline operators are required to have an emergency response plan, and to share that plan with local first responders. The plan should contain detailed information about what the pipelines hold, and how pipeline company personnel and emergency response agencies such as fire and sheriff or police departments will implement pre-planned responses in case of an emergency. PHMSA assesses the written procedures contained in these plans during their inspections of interstate operators, and OSFM (hazardous liquid) and the CPUC (natural gas) reviews portions of the plans during their standard inspections for intrastate pipelines, but operators are not required to submit these plans to either agency. 

Hazardous liquid operators that fall under the jurisdiction of the federal Oil Pollution Act, whose pipelines may significantly harm water bodies if there were to be a release of oil or a refined product, must also prepare a facility response plan, sometimes called a spill response plan, to outline how a release from the facility will be responded to and where response resources will be stored near the pipeline and where staff and contractors will be responding from. These plans must meet the requirements of federal law and regulations and be approved by PHMSA.

In 2014, the Governor signed Senate Bill 861 expanding the Department of Fish and Wildlife Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) marine oil spill preparedness and response program to cover all state surface waters. Temporary regulations have been in effect since then. Permanent regulations have been proposed at the time of this writing that would amend requirements for each operator of an inland facility to prepare and submit an oil spill contingency plan, to submit proof of financial responsibility for oil spills to OSPR for approval, and to initiate and participate in tabletop exercises and equipment deployment drills. The regulations also would provide criteria for rating the capabilities of of oil spill response contractors in all surface waters. The regulations are subject to public comments.  

Hazardous liquid pipeline spill response agencies in California

Oil spill prevention and emergency response authority differs depending on what area the spill is likely to affect (coastal or inland), whether it is part of a larger facility (e.g., a refinery), and what part of the process is the focus (prevention, preparedness, environmental spill response, or emergency assistance to communities). When a spill occurs, many state, federal and local agencies work together under a ‘unified command’ structure on clean-up and response.

Much more detailed information about the hazardous liquid spill response and cleanup process can be found in our 2015 report