Plains All American Pipeline has been ordered to pay more than $60 million due to federal pipeline safety laws and liability for the Refugio Oil Spill.
The civil settlement was announced Friday between federal officials and the Texas-based pipeline company. The May 19, 2015, oil spill from Plains’ 901 immediately north of Refugio State Beach discharged more than 100,000 gallons of crude oil, with some 20,000 gallons flowing into the ocean.
“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,” read a news release issued Friday by the Department of Justice Office of Public Affairs. “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.”
More than 120 birds and 65 marine mammals were killed as a result of the spill.
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 spill. Plains is required to pay $24 million in penalties, $22.33 million in natural resource damages and $10 million for reimbursed natural resource damage assessment costs. In addition, the company is ordered to pay $4.26 million for reimbursed Coast Guard and cleanup costs, according to officials.
The civil complaint sought injunctive relief, penalties, natural resource damages and assessment costs, and response costs for the United States on behalf of a number of departments, including: 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.
“This case is a classic example of why the Clean Water Act authorizes penalties for harmful oil discharges,” EPA Assistant Administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Susan Bodine said in a statement. “With this settlement, EPA, along with its federal and state partners, is holding Plains accountable for the damage they caused to natural resources.”
The settlement is subject to a 30-day public comment period that begins with the posting of a notice in the Federal Register. The consent decree will be available for viewing at www.justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.
In 2017, Plains applied to rebuild two oil lines, including Line 901. The $300 million project would restore crude oil pipeline transportation services in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Kern counties for offshore production platforms. The replacement lines would follow the approximately 130-miles off existing pipeline system, though the project’s website indicates the replacement has been paused due to right of way and environmental review delays.