Federal officials have announced a $60 million civil settlement with Plains All American Pipeline L.P. and Plains Pipeline L.P. (Plains) arising out of Plains’ violations of the federal pipeline safety laws and liability for the May 19, 2015, discharge of approximately 2,934 barrels of crude oil from Plains’ Line 901 immediately north of Refugio State Beach, located near Santa Barbara, California.
The discharge was caused by Plains’ failure to address external corrosion and have adequate control-room procedures in place and was further exacerbated by Plains’ failure to respond properly to the release. The crude oil discharge resulted in the oiling of Refugio State Beach, the Pacific Ocean, and other shorelines and beaches, resulted in beach and fishing closures and adversely impacted natural resources such as birds, fish, marine mammals and shoreline and subtidal habitat. The United States worked closely with co-plaintiff the state of California, and both the United States and California are signatories to the complaint and the consent decree.
The complaint seeks injunctive relief, penalties, natural resource damages and assessment costs, and response costs for the United States, on behalf of the U.S. Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; the U.S. Department of the Interior; the Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard. The United States’ claims are under the federal pipeline safety laws, the Clean Water Act, and the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.
The settlement requires Plains to implement injunctive relief to improve Plains’ nationwide pipeline system and bring it into compliance with the federal pipeline safety laws, in addition to addressing unique threats and modifying operations that caused the Line 901 oil spill; pay $24 million in penalties; pay $22.325 million in natural resource damages, and $10 million for reimbursed natural resource damage assessment costs; and pay $4.26 million for reimbursed Coast Guard clean-up costs. Excluding the value of the required injunctive relief changes to Plains’ national operations, the settlement in conjunction with reimbursed costs is valued in excess of $60 million.
“This case is a classic example of why the Clean Water Act authorizes penalties for harmful oil discharges,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Susan Bodine. “With this settlement, EPA, along with its federal and state partners, is holding Plains accountable for the damage they caused to natural resources.”
“Today’s settlement shows federal and local governments working in partnership to hold industry fairly accountable,” said Deputy Assistant Attorney General Bruce Gelber for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The agreement will also promote public health and safety and protect the environment for local communities.”
“We are pleased to join this agreement with industry and our co-trustees to help restore vital habitats, wildlife and recreational areas injured by this oil spill”, said Nicole LeBoeuf, acting director of NOAA's National Ocean Service. “Local communities and economies depend on these ecosystems, and we look forward to working with the public on projects to restore them to health.”
The section of the California coast affected by the Plains 901 Line oil spill Refugio has one of the most diverse and abundant assemblages of marine organisms in the world. A rich array of marine and coastal habitats including the open ocean, rocky shores, sandy beaches and kelp forests, support a diverse array and large numbers of marine fish, marine mammals and seabirds.
The settlement is subject to a 30-day public comment period that begins with the posting of a notice in the Federal Register.