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Jury deliberating criminal case against pipeline company responsible for Refugio oil spill

Posted at 6:59 PM, Aug 17, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-17 21:59:16-04

After hearing months of testimony from experts, state disaster officials and pipeline employees, jurors were sent Friday to deliberate the criminal charges filed against the company responsible for a busted pipeline that leaked more than 140,000 gallons of oil into the Pacific Ocean at Refugio State Beach in 2015.

Plains All American, which owns the ruptured Line 901, argued that the oil spill was an accident, not a crime.

But prosecutors told jurors in their closing argument that Plains All American acted with "willful ignorance" and violated its own oil spill response plan.

The pipeline rupture led to the deaths of dozens of animals along the Central Coast, with animals impacted by oil from the breached line traced as far south as Huntington Beach, according to prosecutors.

Defense attorneys argued that crew members monitoring the pressure of the line noticed a change in pressure but thought it was from turning it on and nothing abnormal.

"They put an individual with a high school diploma in charge of a high pressurized crude oil pipeline," prosecutors said in closing arguments.

The prosecutor added that once the leak was discovered, it reportedly took pipeline managers more than two hours to report the spill.

Prosecutors said two hours to respond is the state guideline for "non-emergency response" and that the time frame for emergency response is 30 minutes.

"That’s how (Plains All American) does business," the prosecutor said. "There’s no problem until it’s staring them in the face. If Plains had done their job and made notifications when their pressure changed, this whole thing could’ve been prevented."

The prosecutor said the "true hero" of this disaster was the pump censor that ultimately shut down the flow of oil, preventing further contamination.

Jurors were shown images of the animals slicked with oil when they were found dead.

The defense claimed the animals could’ve died from other complications, like becoming entangled in fishing line, gunshot wounds, or malnourishment.

But prosecutors argued the impact is clear and the deaths of the animals are due to Plains All American’s criminal behavior.

Defense attorneys said just because Plains All American’s oil ended up in the ocean, doesn’t make them entirely culpable.

"If you put gas into your car and someone steals your car and drives it into the Pacific, you did not place gas into the ocean," the defense attorney said.

Jurors were sent to deliberate the 15 charges, including three felonies. It’s unclear when they might return with a verdict.