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California Jury Finds Plains Guilty in 2015 Oil Spill

A jury in Santa Barbara County, CA, has found Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline LP guilty of criminal charges in a 2015 pipeline oil spill that fouled local beaches.

After a four-month trial, the state Superior Court jury found Plains guilty of one felony count for causing the spill by failing to properly maintain its pressurized oil pipeline, the 10.2-mile Las Flores to Gaviota Pipeline, or Line 901, that ruptured with some of the oil reaching the Pacific Ocean at Refugio State Beach through a drainage culvert. Plains shut down Line 901 and another nearby pipeline, Line 903.

The jury also found Plains guilty on eight misdemeanor counts for failing to report the spill in a timely manner, knowingly making false reports to the state, and for killing marine mammals, protected sea birds and other sea life. The jury considered 13 counts against Plains, which had been whittled down from an original list of 46 counts in a 2016 indictment by a California grand jury.

Plains was acquitted on one misdemeanor charge. The judge declared a mistrial on three other counts after the jury failed to come to agreement.

Plains officials said the publicly traded master limited partnership "continues to accept full responsibility for the impact of the accident, and we're committed to doing the right thing." They cited the company's "comprehensive clean up effort" and the absence of any "knowing wrongdoing" by the company or its employees in the verdicts.

Plains maintained that its operations of Line 901 met or exceeded all applicable legal and industry standards, and that the jury "erred in its verdict on one count where applicable California laws allowed a conviction under a negligence standard." Plains indicated it would evaluate legal options regarding the jury's decision.

In the original 46 counts, Plains and a former employee, who was terminated before the trial began, were specifically named for allegedly violating state laws.

Following the spill, Gov. Jerry Brown signed three laws on oil pipeline preventive and contingency planning requirements spurred by the Plains incident.

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