Plains All-American Gets Felony Conviction in Refugio State Beach Oil Spill

It took a four month trial to decide it, but in the end Plains All-American Pipeline was found guilty of a felony and multiple misdemeanors connected with the disastrous oil spill from its pipeline at Refugio State Beach in 2015.

Bill Standley, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, inspects dead bird for signs of oil at San Buenaventura State Beach in Ventura, California on June 12, 2015, after the Refugio State Beach oil spill. Photo: Ashley Spratt, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Pacific Southwest Region, CC

The trial was the final step in the criminal investigation of Plains All-American’s negligence and disregard for its obligations after one of its pipelines near Santa Barbara, California, busted open and leaked in 2015. The pipeline itself was seriously corroded with little attention from Plains. When it ruptured, the pipeline dumped over 120,000 gallons of oil into the water. The oil ended up killing hundreds of birds and marine mammals, and coated beaches along the Santa Barbara coast for miles.

A jury found Houston-based Plains guilty of a felony for failing to properly maintain its pipeline, and several misdemeanors, including failing to timely call emergency response agencies. The spill shuttered seven offshore drilling platforms that were served by the pipeline, Line 901. Plains has applied to build a new pipeline in the same location. ExxonMobil is also seeking permits to transport oil by tanker trucks so it can restart its three offshore platforms. 

“Plains’ criminal negligence caused this devastating oil spill and we can’t give it a second chance to spill again,” said Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s time to get dirty,  dangerous drilling out of our oceans, out of our coastal areas and out of our state.”

Santa Barbara and at least 64 over California cities and counties formally oppose the Trump administration’s current proposal to expand offshore drilling in the Pacific and other U.S. oceans. Recent public opinion polling shows that 69 percent of Californians oppose new offshore drilling.

The other misdemeanors for which the jury found Plains guilty included six counts of killing marine mammals, protected sea birds, and other marine life; and one count of violating a county ordinance prohibiting oil spills.  Plains is scheduled to be sentenced on December 13, 2018.