Guilty Verdicts Announced in Refugio Oil Spill Criminal Trial
Source: Santa Barbara County District Attorney
Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce E Dudley and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra Announce that Guilty Verdicts have been reached in the Refugio Oil Spill Criminal Trial.
Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce E. Dudley and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today announced multiple guilty verdicts obtained in People v. Plains All American Pipeline, L.P. regarding the Refugio Oil Spill. After a 4-month trial in the Santa Barbara County Superior Court, a jury found Plains All American Pipeline, L.P. (Plains), an oil pipeline company, guilty for failing to properly maintain its dangerous, highly-pressurized pipeline, which led to the discharge of crude oil into the Pacific Ocean. Plains was found guilty of failing to timely call emergency response agencies about this catastrophic oil spill. Plains also was found guilty of two counts of killing marine mammals and found guilty of three counts of killing protected sea birds. In addition, Plains was found guilty of killing other sea life and guilty of discharging oil onto land or water, in violation of county ordinances.
According to District Attorney Dudley, “Santa Barbara County is frequently referred to as Paradise. The visual crown jewel of our paradise is our beaches and mountains. This spill killed our marine life, harmed not just our beaches and ocean but also our businesses. The Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office (Deputy District Attorney Kevin Weichbrod) and California Attorney General’s Team (Supervising Deputy Attorney General Brett Morris, Deputy Attorney Generals Dennis Beck and Olivia Karlin) that prosecuted this case were relentless in seeking justice for our people, our animals and our environment; they deserve our deepest appreciation. This was truly a “David vs. Goliath” prosecution with a few outstanding government lawyers zealously seeking justice against a large company with teams of lawyers. Special thanks to our hard working jury who generously gave of their time and energy and to our former California Attorney General Kamala Harris for her willingness to pursue this historic prosecution.”
Attorney General Becerra added, “Engaging in this kind of reckless conduct is not just irresponsible - it’s criminal. Today’s verdict should send a message: If you endanger our environment and wildlife, we will hold you accountable. At the California Department of Justice, we will continue prosecuting corporate negligence and willful ignorance to the fullest extent of the law.”
On May 19, 2015, a highly-pressurized pipeline operated by Plains All American Pipeline to transport crude oil ruptured on shore just north of Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County, California. Evidence presented at trial demonstrated that over 140,000 gallons of crude oil were released from the pipeline, spilling crude oil into the Pacific Ocean and spreading across coastal beaches. At trial, testimony revealed that over 100,000 gallons of crude oil were never recovered. Local, state and federal agencies led efforts to protect natural habitats and to try to address the residual hazardous materials remaining along the coast. Immediately after this tragic oil spill, the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office and the California Attorney General’s Office initiated a multi-agency criminal investigation, with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Office of Oil Spill Prevention and Response acting as the lead investigating agency.
On May 16, 2016, a grand jury indicted Plains All-American Pipeline on numerous felony and misdemeanor charges relating to the Refugio Oil Spill. The matter was finally scheduled for trial in early 2018.
Today, Plains was found guilty of one felony and eight misdemeanor counts and is scheduled to be sentenced on December 13, 2018.