State AG may enforce Summit leak fines | SierraSun.com

State AG may enforce Summit leak fines

David Bunker
Sierra Sun

Penalties for a pipeline leak that released more than 1,700 gallons of gasoline and diesel into the Donner Summit snowpack last year will likely be enforced by the California Attorney General’s Office.

Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board officials are recommending that its board vote to forward the complaint to the state’s highest law enforcement officer at their April 12 meeting.

If the case is taken by the attorney general’s office, a fine of up to $34,000 is possible against pipeline operator Kinder Morgan Energy Partners.

The water board could impose penalties of only about half that amount if it handled the case, said Chuck Curtis, a supervising engineer with the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board.

Agencies that spent time and money working on the cleanup or rehabilitation of the area can seek reimbursement from the pipeline operator as part of the settlement, officials said.

The pipeline leak occurred on the trans-Sierra Nevada pipeline that links Rocklin with Sparks, Nev. A fuel smell was first reported by a skier at Donner Ski Ranch on April 1, 2005. The gas and diesel, which spilled into Summit Creek, was contained with oil-absorbent booms, and removed by dipping it out of the water.

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“It’s significant, without doubt, and it was released into a sensitive area,” Curtis said.

The penalty for the Donner Summit spill is expected to be rolled into a larger settlement between the pipeline operator and the attorney general, said Curtis.

“The EPA and the San Francisco water board are in negotiations over numerous spills from the pipeline across the state,” he said.

In the largest of these spills, the Suisuin Marsh leak, Kinder Morgan pled guilty to a criminal case that levied misdemeanor charges and $5 million in fines and restitution. That spill sent an estimated 103,000 gallons of fuel into a wetland near Sacramento. The California Attorney General’s Office represented the agencies in that case.

Now Attorney General Bill Lockyer’s office is going after Kinder Morgan Energy Partners with civil action for the same spill, said Teresa Schilling, a spokeswoman with the attorney general office.

“It’s a pretty big coordinated effort,” said Schilling, who called the offenses by Kinder Morgan “egregious.”

Schilling said she expects the pipeline owner, one of the largest fuel transportation and storage companies in the nation, to settle the civil suit with the attorney general.

“There is a lot of incentive to settle these issues,” she said.