-Plains All American Pipeline convicted in 2015 California oil spill
(Corrects 9th paragraph to show jury deadlocked on two
water-pollution and one wildlife counts, and returned a verdict
of not guilty on the death of a dolphin; original story had not
guilty on additional water-pollution and wildlife counts and
deadlocked on a dolphin death.)
By Steve Gorman and Gary McWilliams
Sept 7 (Reuters) - A California jury on Friday found the
Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline company
guilty on criminal charges of fouling state waters and harming
wildlife in a major oil spill three years ago along the Pacific
shoreline near Santa Barbara.
The verdict closed a chapter in the state's bid to hold
Plains All American criminally responsible for an oil spill that
ranked as the largest in more than four decades to hit the
energy-rich but ecologically sensitive coast northwest of Los
The spill, linked to the deaths of hundreds of sea birds and
marine mammals, occurred when an underground pipeline badly worn
by corrosion ruptured along a coastal highway west of Santa
Barbara on May 19, 2015, sending crude oil gushing onto the
shore of Refugio State Beach and into the Pacific.
By the company's own estimates, as much as 3,400 barrels of
crude oil escaped into the environment at the edge of a national
marine sanctuary and state-designated underwater preserve
teeming with whales, dolphins, sea lions and marine birds.
That stands as the biggest spill since 1969's 100,000-barrel
blowout in the Santa Barbara Channel, an area that also hosts
nearly two dozen offshore oil platforms.
The company faces at least $1.5 million in penalties if
Friday's conviction is sustained, according to John Savrnoch,
the chief deputy district attorney for Santa Barbara County.
But that sum is a small fraction of the $150 million that
Plains said it had spent on spill response and cleanup costs by
the time the criminal case was brought in 2016.
Plains was convicted of discharging crude oil into state
waters, a felony, and for eight misdemeanor offenses, including
the failure to immediately report the spill, Savrnoch told
Reuters. The remaining misdemeanors convictions were mostly for
state wildlife code violations stemming from deaths of sea lions
and brown pelicans in the spill.
The jury was deadlocked on two additional water-pollution
felonies and one wildlife misdemeanor, and returned a verdict of
not guilty on a misdemeanor count related to a dolphin death.
One of Plains' employees, an environmental and regulatory
compliance specialist, was originally charged in the case as
well, but those charges, and dozens of others against the
company, were dismissed before the trial.
In a statement issued after the verdict, Plains said the
outcome exonerated the company of "any knowing misconduct" in
operating the failed pipeline. The company has maintained that
its pipeline operations exceeded legal and industry standards.
The U.S. Transportation Department report concluded a year
after the spill that numerous lapses in safety measures,
judgment and planning by Plains led to and worsened the
It specifically found the company at fault for failing to
protect the pipeline from corrosion beforehand and to promptly
detect and respond to the spill once it occurred.
Oil industry critics seized on the spill as an example of
how the aging infrastructure of America's fossil fuels
production and transport networks pose a grave threat to the
(Reporting by Gary McWilliams in Houston and Steve Gorman in
Editing by Sandra Maler and Leslie Adler)
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