Plains All American Pipeline LP and an affiliate agreed to pay $60 million in a court settlement for allegedly violating federal pipeline safety laws and liability for the 2015 pipeline leak of 2,934 bbl of crude oil that fouled Southern California beaches in Santa Barbara County.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last Friday announced the consent decree under which Plains admitted no wrongdoing, but EPA said the discharge from the company’s Line 901 was caused by Plains’ alleged failure to address external corrosion, inadequate pipeline control room procedures, and a failure of the pipeline to properly respond to the leak.
Houston-based Plains spokesperson Katie Martin called the settlement of civil legal action filed jointly by federal and California agencies a “significant step and culmination of collaborative discussions.” The consent decree also specifies improvements Plains must make in its operations, which are still in various regulatory processes.
“We are committed to designing, constructing, operating, and maintaining our assets in a safe, reliable and responsible manner,” Martin told NGI’s Shale Daily.
Injunctive relief sought by six federal agencies, ranging from EPA to the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) requires Plains to implement improvements in its pipeline system nationally “to bring it into compliance with federal laws,” according to EPA officials.
Plains also must address threats and modify operations in Line 901, along with paying $24 million in penalties, $22.3 million in natural resource damages, $10 million for natural resource damage assessment costs, and $4.26 million to reimburse U.S. Coast Guard clean-up costs.
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California elected officials and regulators lashed out at Plains after the pipeline leak, which impacted Refugio State Beach, the Pacific Ocean and other beaches along the nearby coast. A grand jury in 2016 charged Plains with 46 criminal counts.
In 2018, a jury in a state Superior Court in Santa Barbara County found Plains guilty of criminal charges following a four-month trial considering 13 counts. The company was found 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 (Line 901).
The consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period that begins after the deal is published in the Federal Register.