Plains Charged $3.3 Million in Refugio Oil Spill
2015 Oil Spill in Refugio (Photo: US Coast Guard)
Source: Santa Barbara County District Attorney
People v. Plains All-American Pipeline, L.P. Sentencing on Felony Conviction
Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce E. Dudley [Thursday] announced the sentencing of Plains All American Pipeline, L.P. (Plains) for the 2015 Refugio Oil Spill in Santa Barbara County, California. Plains was sentenced to pay over $3.347 million in fines and penalty assessments. While the Court made findings including that Plains knew or should have known their pipeline would rupture, stating that “[i]t was not a matter of if, but a matter of when,” Judge Herman denied the People’s request to impose probation and for a significantly larger fine. The Court retained jurisdiction over restitution for victims, and the next hearing on that issue will be held on July 10, 2019.
“This assault on our community,” said District Attorney Joyce E. Dudley, “correctly resulted in a historic felony conviction as a result of the Herculean efforts of Deputy District Attorney Kevin Weichbrod and the extraordinary team of Deputy Attorney Generals led by Brett Morris. Still, without the insight, fortitude and hard work of our jury, this success could have evaded our community.”
On May 19, 2015, a highly-pressurized pipeline operated by Plains to transport crude oil ruptured onshore 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.
On September 7, 2018, a Santa Barbara County jury returned a verdict finding Plains guilty of failing to properly maintain its dangerous, highly-pressurized pipeline, which led to the discharge of crude oil into the Pacific Ocean, a felony. Plains was also found guilty of eight misdemeanor charges including one count of failing to follow its own oil spill plan and notify emergency response agencies, six counts of killing marine mammals, protected sea birds, and other marine life, and one count of violating a county ordinance prohibiting oil spills.
These guilty verdicts and this Court’s sentence result from a tireless investigation by the California Department of Justice; the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Office of Spill Prevention and Response; and multiple members of the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office.
EDC Testimony on Plains All American Pipeline Sentencing Hearing
Source: Environmental Defense Center
The Environmental Defense Center’s Chief Counsel, Linda Krop, testified as a witness at the sentencing hearing in the Plains All American Pipeline criminal trial in Santa Barbara Superior Court. The Environmental Defense Center was the only environmental group that testified. Below is the testimony that Ms. Krop delivered in Judge James Herman’s courtroom.
"Good morning, your honor. I am Linda Krop, Chief Counsel of the Environmental Defense Center, a public interest environmental law firm headquartered in Santa Barbara. The EDC was formed as a direct result of the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill and has worked for more than forty years to protect our coast from the risks and impacts of offshore and onshore oil and gas development.
I and other members of our organization went to Refugio on the first day of the Plains All American pipeline oil spill. We were stunned by the overwhelming stench of crude oil and the site of the beach covered in thick, gooey oil.
As you know the Plains oil spill caused tremendous damage to much of the California coast, spreading all the way from Refugio State Beach Park to beaches more than150 miles away in Orange County. The spill killed hundreds of marine mammals, fish, birds, and other wildlife, and destroyed sensitive habitats both onshore and offshore. The spill had a devastating impact on the environment and the lives of those who care about the health of our coastal and marine ecosystems.
According to the Natural Resource Damage Assessment trustee agencies, the spill and response activities impacted the natural resources of the Pacific Ocean and its adjoining shorelines, and impaired the services which those resources provide.
Specifically, the oil spill caused damage to sandy beach and dune habitats, marine protected areas, seagrass and kelp beds, rocky intertidal habitats, subtidal habitats, and other habitats that are critical to the function of our unique coastal environment. In fact, the affected region is so important biologically that it has been dubbed the Galapagos of North America. These resources also provide local food and support vibrant recreation, academic, research, and tourism.
The Natural Resource Damage Assessment process has also revealed that the response and cleanup actions were inadequate to remediate the harm from the oil spill. We will never know the full extent of the damage because it is impossible to clean up an offshore oil spill. What we do know is that the effects will be long lasting and will never be fully mitigated.
Had Plains properly maintained the pipeline, had Plains responded to the change in pressure in the line immediately, and had Plains reported the spill in a timely manner, the damage could have been completely avoided or at least vastly decreased. More than 150 miles of the coast and marine environment would have been spared such devastating harm. Instead, Plains’ callous disregard of the obvious risks on Lines 901 and 903 will impact the environment and our community long into the future.
For these reasons, Plains must be held fully accountable."