Concerns over potential for oil spills along Bay Area coast

SAN PABLO, Calif. (KTVU) - The Bay Area is not immune to the kind of oil spill Santa Barbara is cleaning up from.

In fact, there's a web of pipelines that carry petroleum products around the region. Now, the concern is that pipelines here could rupture for one reason or other.

Fire officials say an oil spill in the area could cause the same type of Santa Barbara problems in the Bay, or even in residential neighborhoods.

Downer Elementary in San Pablo is a school where parents feel their kids are safe and cared for. "I love the school, the principal is great. The school, the programs, everything," said parent Paulina Avila.

But when told about the signs that warn of a petroleum pipeline right outside the school, parents were shocked. "If something did happen, I live down the street, and as a parent, it's very concerning not being with your child when something like that happens," said parent Yukary Moran.

District officials told KTVU the short walls outside the school were constructed in part to help deflect problems that might arise from a potential pipeline rupture. "I feel worried right now. I mean, we need to talk with the principal about it, or with the city. I don't know, we have to do something," added Avila.

"The biggest danger that we find is construction crews who don't call to have the lines marked before they start digging," said Contra Costa Fire Marshall Robert Marshall.

He adds there's a web of petroleum pipelines that runs in and around the county's oil refineries, and spreads out through residential areas.

"There are lines that run underground all over the county really. The bigger ones obviously pose the most danger, but a small line can pose just as much danger to the neighborhoods."

In Richmond, where environmentalists were protesting refinery money in politics, they said oil spills like the one in Santa Barbara are an ever-present hazard.

"That's a clear and present danger that we live with right now, but if they expand the notion of bringing in more and more oil by marine shipment, into the Bay, we would then clearly expect that that would increase the risk," said Andres Soto from Communities for a Better Environment.

Those advocates added that the big pier adjacent to the San Rafael Bridge, which can load four oil tankers at once, is a major concern to them because any spill there could be disastrous. Officials at Chevron, which owns the pier, tell KTVU it is it is perfectly safe.