Court documents show that the owner of an oil pipeline that launched thousands of barrels of crude off the shores of Southern California in 2015 agreed to pay $230 million to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by fishermen and property owners.
Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline Company agreed to pay fishermen and fish processors $184 million and $46 million to coastal landlords in a settlement reached Friday, according to court documents.
The company did not admit liability in the agreement, which comes after seven years of legal controversy. The agreement must be subject to a public comment period and needs approval by the Federal Court. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for June 10.
“This settlement should serve as a reminder that pollution cannot simply be a cost of doing business, and that companies will be held liable for the environmental damage it causes,” said Matthew Brioche, one of the attorneys who represented the plaintiffs.
Plains All American Pipeline officials did not immediately send a letter Saturday from the Associated Press requesting comment.
On May 19, 2015, oil flowed from an eroded pipeline north of Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County, northwest of Los Angeles, spreading along the coasts of Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Los Angeles counties.
This was California’s worst coastal oil spill since 1969, and blackened popular beaches for miles, killing or killing hundreds of seabirds, seals and other wildlife and harming tourism and fishing.
A federal investigation said 123,000 gallons was spilled, but other estimates by fluid mechanics experts were as high as 630,000 gallons.
Federal inspectors found that the Plains had made many preventable mistakes, failed to detect a pipeline rupture quickly and responded too slowly as the oil flowed toward the ocean.
Plains operators operating from a Texas control room more than 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) away turned off an alarm that would have indicated a leak, and restarted the bleed line after it was shut down, unbeknownst to the leak, which made matters task only. The inspectors found the worst.
Plains apologized for the spill and paid for the cleaning. The company’s 2017 annual report estimated the costs from the leak at $335 million, not including lost revenue. The company also revised its plans to deal with the onshore pipeline leak.
In 2020, Plains agreed to pay $60 million to the federal government to settle allegations that it violated safety laws. It also agreed to bring the nationwide pipeline system into compliance with federal safety laws.
The spill crippled local oil businesses because the pipeline was used to transport crude to refineries from seven offshore platforms, including three owned by ExxonMobil, which had been idle since the spill.
Plains has applied for permission to build a new pipeline but faces an uphill battle.
The emerging controversy is taking place in the midst of the global climate crisis and with California moving toward a ban on gas-powered vehicles and oil drilling, while record gas prices have left consumers shocked at the pumps.
A complex environmental review of the pipeline plan is not expected until October.