Jury find Plains All American guilty of 9 counts for 2015 Santa Barbara Co. Oil spill

Posted at 5:29 PM, Sep 07, 2018

Guilty verdicts were reached Friday in the criminal trial against Plains All American Pipeline.

The Texas oil company was found guilty of one felony and eight misdemeanors related to the May 19, 2015 incident that spilled 140,000 gallons of crude oil near Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County. 

Much of that oil flowed into the Pacific Ocean, killing hundreds of birds and marine mammals.

Plains All American faced a 15-count indictment that included three felonies. The charges said the company violated the Clean Waters Act.

The jury found plains guilty of the following charges:

– Failing to properly maintain its "dangerous, highly-pressurized" pipeline 
– Failing to notify emergency response agencies in a timely matter
– Killing marine mammals
– Killing protected sea birds
– Killing other sea life 
– Discharging oil onto land or water, violating county ordinances 

The trial, which began in mid-May, was held in Santa Barbara. The jury began deliberating last month. 

Following Friday’s verdict, Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley said, "Santa Barbara County is frequently referred to as Paradise. The visual crown jewel of our paradise is our beaches and mountains. This spill killed our marine life, harmed not just our beaches and ocean but also our businesses. The Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office (Deputy District Attorney Kevin Weichbrod) and California Attorney General’s Team (Supervising Deputy Attorney General Brett Morris, Deputy Attorney Generals Dennis Beck and Olivia Karlin) that prosecuted this case were relentless in seeking justice for our people, our animals and our environment; they deserve our deepest appreciation. This was truly a "David vs. Goliath" prosecution with a few outstanding government lawyers zealously seeking justice against a large company with teams of lawyers.  Special thanks to our hard working jury who generously gave of their time and energy and to our former California Attorney General Kamala Harris for her willingness to pursue this historic prosecution."

Plains All American has said the spill was an accident, not a crime.

The company released the following statement late Friday afternoon: "Plains is pleased that (i) our employee was dismissed before trial began; (ii) 37 of the initial 46 charges against the company were either dismissed by the Judge or resulted in acquittals or deadlocks by the jury; and (iii) in particular, that the jury did not find any knowing misconduct by Plains with respect to the operation of Line 901.  Of the nine counts of conviction, eight were misdemeanors, consisting of one count relating to a 25 minute delayed reporting and seven counts under California’s strict liability misdemeanor statutes (six animal takings counts and one discharge count).

Plains’ operations with respect to Line 901 met and/or exceeded applicable legal and industry standards, and accordingly, we believe that the jury erred in its verdict on one count where applicable California laws allowed a conviction under a negligence standard.  We intend to fully evaluate and consider all of our legal options with respect to the trial and resulting jury decision announced today. 

Plains continues to accept full responsibility for the impact of the accident.  We are committed to doing the right thing.  The verdict reflected no knowing wrongdoing by Plains or our employees with respect to the operation of Line 901, and the testimony established our comprehensive cleanup effort.  Numerous witnesses testified that Plains did everything possible to return areas impacted by the 2015 oil release to conditions as good as or better than before the release.  

Previously, charges were dropped against a Plains employee and two-thirds of the original charges have been dismissed."

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said, "Engaging in this kind of reckless conduct is not just irresponsible – it’s criminal. Today’s verdict should send a message: If you endanger our environment and wildlife, we will hold you accountable. At the California Department of Justice, we will continue prosecuting corporate negligence and willful ignorance to the fullest extent of the law."

Sentencing in the case is set for Dec. 13.